NEW touring company Concentric Circles aims to "provide opportunities for collaboration between senior members of the theatrical profession and the rising generation of young performers".

On its Harrogate Theatre debut, it is doubtful the form of collaboration was the one intended. By a series of unfortunate circumstances, the tragedy of Othello the Moor, was turned into The Moor The Merrier.

The catastrophic, calamitous stuff of The Art Of Coarse Acting, no less.

Not long into Shakespeare's naval tale of love, passion and jealousy, Christopher Middleton's Iago succumbed to a sore throat which had become a distraction in itself. So it was that the hoarse, wiry Middleton was suddenly replaced by a man with hair as white as his strangely- magnetic white boots, a military jacket, tight striped trousers - Mick Jagger? - a script and spectacles.

As this figure sat at a table reading his lines it took a little time to realise this would be our Iago, the poisonous plotter, for the rest of our near four-hour journey to Desdemona's death.

It later emerged the venerable director Christopher Fettes had stepped into the breach.

Rule number one: don't have a man wearing specs reading a script on stage. In a moment of blissfully unintentional comedy, when substitute Iago is being throttled by Ricky Fearon's beefy Othello, he removes his glasses for protection, rendering it impossible for him to read the lines - a task already made difficult by the book now being positioned tantalisingly out of sightline beyond Othello's muscular shoulder.

There was more mishap-comedy to come, when David Lawrence's lighting was so dark that Fettes's Iago had to place himself by a footlight and later returned to the stage with a torch to facilitate his reading. You couldn't make this up.

Nor the moment where, for reasons best known to the director, the decision to have Othello strip down and take a shower offered more beef to his cake than anyone expected.

The teenage English literature students were besides themselves with giggling joy when both the shaving mirror and another, wall-length mirror revealed how Fearon measured up.

If all this mirth seems cruel, then Fettes's modern setting of Othello was hapless in so many other ways: long, slow, with ill-placed music; an absurd drunken sing-song; erratic use of sound effects, that shower unit and a small table that was more obstacle course than prop.

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Updated: 10:48 Thursday, March 20, 2003