“Growing up we were starved of characters on our stages that looked like us”: Othello: Remixed director Darren Raymond discusses the importance of representation
The Shakespearean landscape is changing thanks to directors like Darren Raymond. In his new adaptation of the Shakespearean classic, Raymond takes on Othello for the third time in his career. Not only does he relate to its eponymous hero and his strife, but he’s ready to challenge and change who gets to be represented in The Bard’s oeuvre. Before the Omnibus Theatre’s production, The Upcoming spoke with the director about the journey of this adaptation that was piloted as early as 2012 and what he feels is his responsibility as a director – to open up the oftentimes excluding nature of the Shakespearean world to young people who have been let down by our institutions.
You have said you have a strong affinity for Othello both as a play and as a character. It’s a character in whom you recognise yourself. In what ways?
Well, growing up we were starved of characters on our stages that looked like us. Othello is one of the few non-white characters that Shakespeare created and until very recently it was a character that only white men got to play. The character goes through a tough time. I’ve had my share of disappointments growing up, to a point where I almost self-destructed. I can relate to the jealousy, self-hate and need to belong.
How does that recognition affect your work as a director?
I’m not afraid to bring myself to the work as a director. I am very conscious of the fact that there are very few black directors in the UK, directing Shakespeare, perhaps because we feel that the work is not part of our history. I feel I’m representing voices that have not been allowed to speak or play in this particular world (Shakespeare). I’m talking about young people, predominately non-white, coming from deprivation and educational institutions which ignore them and their stories. As a director, it is my responsibility to change that.
You have worked with Othello several times over your career. What prompted you to return to the Shakespearean classic? How do your experiences on each production differ?
This will be my third time working on Othello. The play has a special place in heart because I was introduced to it at a tough time in my life and it contributed to the person I am today. Each time I work on the text my experience is different because it’s always a new moment and I like to respond honestly to moments. You will always find something new in all you do. I believe there is no such thing as repetition because it’s impossible to recreate any moment in its original form.
This production was first piloted in 2012 by Intermission Youth Theatre. How has the show developed since then?
A lot – and it will continue to develop through rehearsal. I’m a very collaborative director and I’m always inviting actors to interrogate scripts. The character Desdemona is a lot feistier now than she was when we piloted it back in 2012. That reflects the incredible work women have been doing and is rightly being recognised by us all.
Can you talk about your process of adaptation?
We improvise around the original text, putting ourselves into the predicaments the characters face but in today’s world. We discuss, we argue, we agree, we play….
I go away and write up the work and share back every week with the players and we continue this way until we have a first draft.
Did you always know your version of Othello would take place in a London boxing ring in 2019 or did you discover your setting later in the process?
The boxing ring idea came from an improvisation during Intermission’s Youth workshop sessions a few years ago. We explored who Othello might be today, the idea for a boxer came up and I thought this made perfect sense. A fighter, isolated, disciplined and highly sought after.
You put emphasis on theatre reaching a wider audience. How does your mission to do this take shape?
Shakespeare’s Othello: Remixed will have an all-black cast, a fusion of ancient and contemporary language. Add in a hip-hop sound soundtrack, set in a boxing ring … have you seen this before?
I hope we are speaking for people who feel Shakespeare is not for them and challenging this perception. I hope we are speaking for people who want to see change in the way we tell Shakespeare’s stories.
What drives you? Who are your influences?
Intermission Theatre was founded by Rev Rob Gillion and his wife Janine Gillion back in 2000. Rob was an actor before he became ordained and his first ten years in ministry he was working with prisoners in Hong Kong. They are both incredibly loving people who live to serve for the good of humanity; I look to them for inspiration and of course to God.
Can you imagine working outside of Shakespearean plays? Do you have another of his works that you would like to adapt soon?
I have written original plays and that’s something I enjoy doing. I also write for the screen. My next Shakespeare-inspired play is Excluded, a mash-up of a few of Shakespeare’s iconic characters in a London secondary school preparing for their GSCE’s. Surely nothing can go wrong!
Photo: Richard Jinman
Othello Remixed is at Omnibus Theatre from 25th June until 14th July 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.
Watch the trailer for Othello: Remixed here: