We chatted to The Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund winning actress about taking on the role of Othello in the National Youth Theatre’s production, touring from the 25th May.

Hi Francesca – congratulations on being one of the winners of The Evening Standard Future Theatre Fund – how do you feel? Crazy.  I still haven’t processed it really. There are so many talented people out there, so I feel incredibly humbled to be recognised alongside an amazing group of winners. It’s mad!

How does it feel to be starting out your career during these strange times? Very uncertain but also exciting. I think we have an opportunity to rebuild the industry, when things pick up again, to make it better than it was before. To make it more inclusive and put diversity at the front and centre. Even though it is a strange and uncertain time, it is a privilege that we as artists have had the time to reflect and plan, when some people like key workers haven’t had a break all year. Speaking for myself, it is a good thing that I have had a lot of time to read and think about my career and even those small things that seem insignificant have helped to better inform the work I will do in the future.

You are set to star in the title role of Othello – what can we expect from this production? It is epic; it is totally mind blowing. It is set in the 90s in a nightclub during the acid house boom and the action takes place over the course of a single night out. This was the pre-smartphone era, so the only reason you went out was to get lit and make mistakes. So you can expect to experience the bass, the sweat, the light, the moves and shapes of the club with a tragic twist. It is definitely Shakespeare as you haven’t seen before and it’s a female Othello, so expect a heavy dose of girl power as well.

How does it feel to be taking on this character? I am very aware of the legacy of Othello and the amazing actors who have portrayed this part. I think anyone who is playing the title character of a Shakespeare play feels overwhelmed at the enormity of the role but it is an amazing challenge. Othello is an incredibly complex, layered character. It has been an incredible journey to get to know the character, through what’s already in the text and also bringing parts of myself to the role. She is a phenomenal black, female leader and I am really proud to have this opportunity.

How do you see the character Othello? Othello is a charismatic, eloquent, power house leader whose years of experience out in the field has given her resilience to endure the struggles and prejudices she has faced as a black queer woman in a patriarchal society. At the beginning of the play she is completely in love with Desdemona and it is the breakdown of their relationship that leads her to question her identity and self worth. She allows her insecurities to push her to the point of self destruction. Ultimately, the tragedy is human flaw and there’s something in it that everyone can relate to. We can all relate to being in love, whether it’s romantic, family, friend or culture and we can all relate to feelings of insecurity and trying to navigate life.

How have you found working with Miranda Cromwell on the production? Miranda is an ultimate icon. Working with her has been a dream, I have felt very supported by her and her entire creative team throughout the process. She creates an open and collaborative rehearsal environment, so you really feel safe to explore and challenge yourself and that is something really special. She is an absolute legend. 

How would you describe this adaptation of the play? Shakespeare can feel quite dated for young people so we wanted to interpret the show in a modern day setting and make it appeal to all generations whilst still honoring the style of the text. Dzifa Benson who abridged the text has done an incredible job contemporising the play and making it a real ensemble piece. One of the main creative concepts in our version is that it includes a chorus. This chorus is a chorus of ravers and they are the beating heart of the show. They bring all the energy, the movement and the music, it’s electrifying. This is all happening through the lens of crime and power. It explores themes of love, jealousy, misogyny and racism. It’s a trip. You will experience highs and lows, all the extremes of a night out.

What are you most looking forward to about bringing this production to audiences? Theatres have been shut for over a year now, so being a part of welcoming back audiences after so long feels historic. I think although society has changed a lot with social distancing, the pandemic has taught us that human connection is so important. Theatre gives us a safe space to share, connect and be together. It will be so nice to share the love that we have put into creating this show with audiences.

By Emma Clarendon

The National Youth Theatre production of Othello will be visiting Royal & Derngate Northampton (25th-29th May), Workshop Theatre at the NYT (7th to the 9th June) and Bolsover Castle (23rd-26th June).