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Review: R'Otello the rugby opera

'I'd like to see you try and stop me' R'Otello

Tom lowe, Tenor as DJ and Louise Callinan, Mezzo Soprano as Nurse Carmen.

'Trevor Nunn can keep his all white (for historical accuracy) Shakespeare, and Propellor can keep their all male casts – there is something beautifully refreshing watc​hing Shakespeare told in this vibrant, new and never seen before style'

03/10/15 by GAFA Arts Collective

Based in London, GAFA (pronounced Nga-Fah) is Europe’s first Samoan Arts Collective, their work primarily focused on Samoan Art practice and culture. Their most recent piece – R’otello – the Rugby Opera, performed at Caius House in South London on the 3rd and 4th Oct, was written and directed by Sani Muliaumaseali’i, and featured the operas of Carmen, Otello and Tosca.

Performed in a sports hall, which felt fitting for an opera about rugby, GAFA had extraordinarily managed to fit a fifty piece orchestra as well as a six piece band and a pianist in to the hall. I like these non-traditional venues, I have to admit to not being a regular opera attendee – and even as someone who is familiar with visiting the theatre on a regular basis, I still find places like the Royal Opera House a little intimidating, so for me, seeing an opera in a more familiar, public space, put me immediately at ease.

Based around the story of Othello, Otello is the captain of the national rugby team of Samoa; the action picks up at the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup. Mona, Otello’s wife, awards Tasio (who has been crowned Man of The Match) with a new I-Phone, which sets up the premise for a device used throughout the show in which characters communicate by text message. We see all of the characters from Shakespeare’s original, but re-thought and reborn in to new scenarios all based around the Rugby World Cup. A favourite of mine was The Headliner: F Tosca, (played by Eddie Muliaumasealli) a Drag-Queen superstar, who steals a large part of the show when performing at a karaoke night at her club, co-owned along with the Baroness (played by Lori Isley Lynn) who also gave a particularly memorable performance, glittery and seductive – highly enjoyable. ​

'Its as big as the world'

image: Lori Isley lynn as Baroness Scarpia and Richard Keane as Big Dan.

​The nurse, Carmencitta (played by Louise-Callinan) also gave an enjoyable performance, her solo numbers performed in the club shining out as a highlight of the show, she had developed a strong and incredibly likeable character, who always bought a burst of new energy to the stage. As well as a strong cast of principle characters, there was also an incredibly tight ensemble, who carried us fluidly through the scenes and across the story with clarity.

R’Otello speaks loudly about misogyny and scrutinises domestic violence. Through short scenes interspersed amongst the action, we hear women speak accounts of domestic violence. They are powerful voices, and bring a woman’s perspective to sit amongst the traditionally more male-centred story of Othello.

These also parallel Mona’s (Desdemona’s) death at the end of the show, there is a powerful image of the women in circle, in which Desdemona dies – at this moment I suddenly recalled the statistics of how many women per week in the UK are killed as a result of domestic violence – there was something incredibly disturbing seeing it presented so bluntly on stage.

As far as I’m concerned Trevor Nunn can keep his all white (for historical accuracy) Shakespeare, and Propellor can keep their all male casts – there is something beautifully refreshing watching Shakespeare told in this vibrant, new and never seen before style. In fact, the way GAFA approach everything is refreshing, from the venue, to the style, to the representation of women in Shakespeare, to breaking all of the pre-conceived ideas about opera and the classics, hopefully it will return next year, so keep your eyes on their twitter (@gafasamoa) for updates.

© Amie Taylor 2015

Wandsworth Symphony orchestra under Leigh O'hara and West End Band MD Andy Philip.​

Lighting: Dominic Warwick, Design: Kate Lane, Sound: Kevin Jianoran

Written and directed by Sani Muliaumaseali'i

Photos: Foetini Christofilopoulou ©2015

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