By Danielle Farrow
This ‘re-imagining’ of Macbeth by Jethro Compton (much associated with Belt Up Theatre’s productions of his work) plays with the sequence of Shakespeare’s scenes and is set in a WWI bunker, produced here with detail: corrugated ceiling above with lanterns hanging, wooden slats all round, including on the door by which the audience enter, and details of satchels, books, radio/phone, gas masks, etc, put to use. Benches surround the space with only two exits at either end, on which viewers sit, and it is described as an ‘entirely immersive experience’.
The audience are included as witches and as dinner guests, being addressed directly at times, but the occasionality of this surprises slightly and is a little strange set against the intimate privacy of the rest. In this tale of a heroic soldier turning to murder for gain, assisted by his wife, and the resultant chaos, those who do not know Shakespeare’s original may be hard pressed to understand the avenging character Macduff or who it is Macbeth originally murders – with only commands given over the radio and brief references to action to be taken setting these things up.
It is hard to know whether this Macbeth is actually committing crimes or is in the grip of feverish imaginings as the result of the trauma of the trenches – if it is the latter, it is very unclear, despite the sounds of explosions, flickering lights, and Macbeth’s responses to these. If the former, there is no real sense of a change in Macbeth’s status or any feel of murder done on a superior. The incongruity of castles and ancient weapons being referred to as we see guns, and hear a military coat called a nightgown, and are in such a modern setting, jars, especially as changes to text are sometimes made at other points, such as ‘the cry of soldiers’ (and what would be surprising about that?) instead of ‘the cry of women’ before the announcement (over the radio) of Macbeth’s ‘wife’ (not queen) being dead.
The most unsatisfactory aspect, though, is that, while the performances sometimes touch on realism and occasionally – particularly in the more heightened interaction between Macbeth and his wife – lift into something truly engaging of attention, there is an overall ennui, a lack of directed energy, throughout. While this could be something of ‘sauna syndrome’ given the rising heat in the venue, it was apparent from the start, and meant that Shakespeare’s language was somehow – amazingly – reduced to the banal, even when clearly articulated by gas masked zombies, intriguingly used for depiction of messengers and witches.
The Bunker Trilogy: Macbeth, despite high production values for set and a few original ideas, has little forward drive and the action barely seems to matter, so that, when we re-see the start (that being much of the end of the play, in an obvious framing device) and should be caught up in Macbeth’s plight, it is actually very hard to care at all. Disappointing.