REVIEW – 2008:Macbeth, Edinburgh International Festival

*****

Bombast, bluster and blood combine in a barrage on the senses in TR Warszawa’s bold and at-times brilliant version of Macbeth.

Director Grzegorz Jarzyna sets the mood from the start, as Major Macbeth and his men drop behind enemy lines in a vital and brutal mission. And whilst his fellow soldiers rely on their guns to despatch their foes, Macbeth relishes in using his combat knife to dispense particularly gory retribution.

Set in an imagined present-day cauldron of US-occupied Iraq and Scotland, 2008: Macbeth is a big-budget blockbuster of a production, staged in a multi-levelled set in Ingliston’s Lowland Hall. Live video screens broadcast updates from the front; fire and smoke envelop blood-soaked chambers; and actors create multiple tableaux in the set’s cutaway spaces.

The piece revels in its masculine brutality, focusing on the male bonding – and the acts of cruelty – of brothers-in-arms. Yet the female roles hold as much power, particularly the unsettling and demonic Hecate, relishing the hold she exerts over men as she watches inevitable events unfold.

Cezary Kosinski is a psychotic, quick-tempered Macbeth, giving in to the intoxicating taste of power quickly, constantly spurred on by his equally ambitious wife (a seductively unhinged Aleksandra Konieczna). The play’s supernatural elements are handled interestingly: it is never clear whether the witches (given a surreal Lynchian imagining here) are manifestations of another world or of Macbeth’s power crazed mind.

And as gunfire cracks, flares dazzle and the acrid smoke of explosions fills the space, the sense of unreality is heightened. Even the sound of planes landing and taking off from the neighbouring airport add to the immersion. However, there are times when the sheer scope of Jarzyna’s adaptation almost get the better of it; one or two parts also threaten to cross the line into parody, but always manage to wrench themselves back just in time.

Ultimately, Jarzyna succeeds in creating a startling and genuinely unsettling version of Macbeth which grips not only due to the scale of its staging, but also of the director’s vision.

2008:Macbeth is at Ingliston Lowland Hall until 18 August. Ticket information is on the EIF website.

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