By Danielle Farrow
“I ‘gin to be aweary” says Macbeth at one point and sadly that was all too apt for this production, where fairly young performers have had their life force drilled out of them. Repeated ’wicked’ laughter every time a witch, in whatever guise, leaves the stage becomes tedious, while main signs of life come from a Macbeth whose idiosyncrasies channel Rik Mayall in sleazy politician role, with the arm movements of an air steward giving exit directions.
Actually, this Macbeth grows into someone who can hold attention, managing to convey real thoughts, and Macduff – when forced out of subdued monotones – was moved to occasional energetic expression. Which is not enough to stop this production of one of Shakespeare’s most action-led plays from being buried under piles of would-be psychological realism, with pause after pause where thought and feeling should have been bursting forth in rigorous language. Cue audience restlessness and yawns.
Clever notions, such as radio spirits for the later prophecies and Lady Macbeth washing in blood, show where the focus falls: on concept, not content. The real victim is the audience’s desire to care about what is happening, leaving us with clear diction, without the heart that should attend it.
The over-riding concept? Macbeth set in WWII. The witches are factory women whose typewriting cues what is to happen next for the first couple of scenes. This seemed promising, if only as a novel way of having them control the action (though that notion is not at all novel nowadays). But what does it mean? Notes suggest they do not want men / Macbeth to take over now peace has been achieved, but this does not carry in performance. Apparently the production explores “the role women play in the creation and destruction of the infamous tyrant” – but what is brought to Shakespeare‘s play or enhanced from within it by such a concept is not at all clear.
Lady Macbeth is one of the witches – whether just for casting expediency or deeper meaning is also unclear – and the other two play various cackling bit parts. So, the witches joyfully bait Macbeth all through the play and then are silently glum at the end as they listen to Malcolm’s victory speech on the radio. Meaning? Thoughts on that might come if I had been better engaged, but the torpor induced has yet to fully lift.
This Macbeth has some interesting ideas, a lead who achieves times of real attention and thought, and mostly the words are clearly spoken throughout. A minimal set (table with a few furnishings) suffices well enough, and some piercing lighting changes support action, but sounds of fighter planes and, supposedly, doodlebugs (none of which include that breath-holding silent countdown as you wonder just how close the danger is) are over-used while quick scene shifts are then held up, presumably by costume changes. Above all, Shakespeare’s characters, language and dynamic action, imbued with fire and blood and guts, are here ironed flat and left pitifully empty.