Upstaged Theatre Company’s Macbeth has a modern urban setting, is cut down to one hour, sometimes layers Shakespeare’s lines so that scenes overlap and has a raw energy that appeals, with direction that is fresh and well-presented.
It is not unusual nowadays to see the witches managing proceedings, but the use of them here shows some originality. As Macbeth gains power through murder, losing friends, the wife that encouraged him in his deeds and, in the end, all that he committed murder for, the witches make sure their prophesies are fulfilled, holding one here, preserving another there, leading the dead and even orchestrating Lady Macbeth’s madness. There is some use of drug-taking that seems a little sudden and a bit strangely performed towards the end, but the setting of gang warfare to start and the hooded goth crew works, with vandalised corrugated metal arches providing decent exits and entrances for the supernatural as well as the rest. A few steps and two ramps to a slim raised dais dressed with cammo netting, discarded beer cans and a burnt cot complete the set, lit by washes of red, yellow, green and blue in keeping with scenes and the atmospheric music supporting them.
The young actors are not skilled in their handling of Shakespeare’s verse for the most part, though one who delivered messages often showed some command of this and skill in understated emotion. Macbeth sometimes broke sense in breaking the flow of lines, pausing inappropriately before then rattling separate thoughts out in one go, but he was mostly clear in his thoughts and feelings and held attention throughout. Lady Macbeth had some very subtle moments, as when she was not completely confident in taking bloodied daggers from her husband, but she did make strange interpretations of line sense at times and both could be more connected to gut feelings and physicality when speaking – but no more than many other, more experienced performers around in the Fringe. Other actors suffered from letting their vocal energy drop towards the end of their lines and speeches, but overall each character was well-considered and there was considerable physical effort on display, with some fine fights.
The modern setting worked, with knives, a long hammer and a barbed chain put to good use, along with a pig’s mask that helped link recurring motifs, and connections of ending to beginning were well handled. There were moments of great energy, some suspense, a little poignancy and a lot of forward drive, always important in Shakespeare. The overlapping of a few scenes helped that forward drive, but was slightly confusing the first time, where it seemed two characters were speaking to each other when were really privately voicing suspicions about each other, and the layering technique deadened some dark humour the second time.
In the end, though, Upstaged Theatre Company’s Macbeth is well-directed, with understanding of strong story-telling and a cast that is indeed, as advertised, young and vibrant.
By Danielle Farrow
16 – 21 August, 15:40 (16:40) @ Paradise in Augustine’s