EDINBURGH FESTIVAL '98: THEATRE: OJ OTHELLO ASSEMBLY ROOMS

Dominic Cavendish
Sunday 23 August 1998 23:02
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IT SOUNDS pretty crass, doesn't it? A multi-media monologue that brackets OJ Simpson and Othello, Moor of Venice. The publicity blurb takes obvious points of comparison and spins them into Hollywoodspeak: "Just like OJ, he has married a young, white woman. Othello murders his wife. How about OJ?"

Despite the crude premiss, Maarten van Hinte's script aims for something more complex than a game of art- versus-life Snap. If it finally gets lost in a maze of speculation, it does so out of a compelling sense of curiosity.

Van Hinte utilises chunks of text from Othello and the relationship between Othello and Iago as a means of describing the split personality and self- hatred of a high-achiever racked to the point of insanity by the deracination success has brought him. After scene-setting using TV footage of OJ (football hero, advertisers' dream and No 1 murder suspect), we are presented with a sharp-suited, smooth-talking family man, who (convinced of his innocence) simply wants to tell his life story. But another voice keeps breaking through, underscored by malevolent synthesised music, accusing him of having sold out and urging him that Nicole Brown was "a gold-digga, nigga".

It is to Frank Sheppard's credit that he manages to articulate both sides of the debate without falling into park-bench derangement. The accompanying jazz/hip hop soundtrack and TV monitors are surprisingly effective, not just in sustaining mood and pace but in suggesting socio-cultural forces much greater than one man can contend with. The final pathetic footage of OJ fleeing in his Ford Bronco pursued by cops while Sheppard reads Othello's farewell monologue ("Speak of me as I am") turns a media circus into a moving piece of theatre.

Assembly Rooms, Venue 3, to 30 August, pounds 9 (pounds 8)

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