Macbeth

Tue 4th – Sat 8th October 2011

reviews

Husein Meghji

at 13:34 on 5th Oct 2011

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Over the years, Shakespeare’s Macbeth has been subjected to a whole multitude of modern dress versions, which have transposed the so-called Scottish play to settings as varied as post-colonial Haiti and Soviet Russia. Cast 2011’s production daringly spurns historic or contemporary backdrops, instead turning forward the clock to a fictional future, resulting in an original and pleasingly realised performance.

The world of the play is a dystopian wasteland. A skeletal, lifeless tree is the most significant element of the non-changing, minimalist set, which betrays the influence of Beckett. A cross is propped against its trunk, while rag dolls are hung one by one from a bough to mark the dead as Macebth’s blood-shedding zeal escalates. This juxtaposition of Christian and voodoo symbols is an apt reminder of the unsettling intrusion of witchcraft into the Christian world of Macbeth’s Scotland.

The hugely varied costumes benefit from the lack of a historical period to which they must be faithful, and inspiration clearly stems from a motley assortment of sources, from sci-fiction to dystopian fiction and recent post-apocalyptic films, such as The Road and Book of Eli. Macebeth, Banquo and co wield machine guns and navigate their gloomy world with the aid of torches. The action plays out to the sound of distant gunfire and bombing and the periodic howling of sirens.

This barren, inhospitable world is a none-too-subtle symbol of Macbeth’s own impotence and the cutthroat political world of the play. Nick Ricketts captures the protaganist’s weaker side particularly well; he is a pathetic figure whose ‘o’erleaping ambition’ must be stoked by his wife’s caresses and the promises of witchcraft. The rest of the cast give pleasing performances. Abi Tedder particularly shone as the delightfully mischievous porter, providing some much-needed comic relief. The lack of extras and the doubling of roles by some of the cast have the effect of shrinking the world of the play such that the personal overshadows the political. The fate of nations and the political future are less important than personal desires and the thirst for vengeance.

Shakespeares’s shortest play is fast-paced – yet no less profound for it - and Cast 2011’s production is original and well-acted. Macbeth at the ADC is well worth seeing.

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Lise McNally

at 14:55 on 5th Oct 2011

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1disagrees

Brilliantly embodying a world where fair is foul and foul is fair, John Haidar’s production of Macbeth plays a very clever game. Like its protagonist, the show is its own flower, and the serpent under it, using light and dark to embrace the notion of deception and contrast. The result is a performance which is both starkly ugly and strangely beautiful, explosively violent and deeply haunting.

Set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Anna Reid’s production design is wonderfully effective: barbed wire, bare trees, and a daubed sign welcome us to a dingy Dunsinane, where the court banquets are held on upturned crates. Complemented by Simon Gethin Thomas’ stark black and white lighting palette, the Scotland which Macbeth so frantically fights for seems hardly worth the effort. This empty ambition plays against Haidar’s strong emphasis on violence and pain, where the blood is very red, the screams very loud, and the reporting captain of Act One is replaced by a prisoner of war, interrogated by torture.

But for all its high energy and attitude, this play succeeds most when it tries to scare. Visual games and tricks combine with sound play to bring the questions of fate and madness to the foreground. Most notably, the banquet scene is two-faced, played either side of the interval, once with a graphically bloody Banquo (Alex MacKeith) onstage, and once without. The audience is placed inside Macbeth’s tortured mind, only to be ripped out again to witness the terrible effect. The use of dolls is also clever: one is hung on a tree at Duncan’s death, leaving four remaining nooses dangling ominously, still to be filled.

However, such detailed touches couldn’t work without the sterling efforts of an obviously talented cast. The three witches (all brilliantly portrayed by Abi Tedder, Laura Batey, and Charlotte Hamblin) become the focal point of fear. A reworked cauldron scene gives them a more deliberate role in turning Macbeth into the proverbial “something wicked”, and they carry that dangerous power with ease. Vocal deliveries are particularly skilled, with Hamblin delivering a demonic possession which is truly terrifying. Indeed, most of the performances deserve praise, particularly Mateo Oxley’s upright and brooding Macduff, and Tedder’s hilarious Porter.

At the centre of the piece, Nick Ricketts and Victoria Ball uphold the efforts of the cast. Ball’s remarkably expressive face allows her to vocally underplay some of the more dramatic lines, giving her a sense of quiet control descending into an eerily calm madness. Those moments when she does boil over into anger or fear become heightened by contrast. Ricketts also delivers a seamless performance which oscillates between fear, madness and ennui with an admirable fluidity.

There are a few moments of odd pacing in the second half which hampers the flow of an otherwise slick production, but these moments are easily forgivable among the display of considerable talent and cleverly inventive details. For a show which delivers all the frenzied energy and tragic fruitlessness of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy look no further, but look carefully- there are a great many things hidden in the dark.

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