By Danielle Farrow
How refreshing! Matt Dann, director of Thrust Stage’s Macbeth, writes this in his programme notes: “it suddenly occurred to me that the pressure I had previously felt, to impose a new concept upon the play [which ‘would shock and astonish audiences with its startling originality’], was hindering the way I approached the text. I was fighting to make the text suit my purposes, not the other way round. This realisation changed my entire approach.’
The new approach has yielded fine fruit: a Macbeth that is visibly engaged with its background of war, includes fresh ideas without forced directorial concepts and is very definitely rooted in the text. The cast, too, who seem mostly to be students and graduates of Durham University, impress. Intention is clear from dynamic entrances right through the scenes, meaning is both understood and connected with, and there are some very strong performances. Lady Macbeth had moments of incredibly real engagement and Macbeth himself stands out for his clear understanding, delivery, sensitivity, vocal and physical skills and believability.
The witches are well embodied and their wounds, including bloody bandaged eyes, connected to text and were put to excellent performance use (though a revelation is perhaps a little too obvious, and need never have been hidden). An example, too, of the detail in direction occurs early with the witches first appearance: they are focused on a knife which is stabbed into a stool. When Macbeth perceives his ‘dagger of the mind’, he discovers it (invisible to the audience) in just such a location. A few stools are the only scene-setting props, the rest achieved through text and performance, with some sound. The bells that ring are not so apt, as they seem more about time than the bell the Lady is to strike as a signal for Macbeth, and the times rung are then confusing when compared with each other and the events unfolding. Otherwise, sound is integrated well, sometimes overlapping scenes, helping pace and drama, just as occasional lines overlap, helping to bring real life to the acting.
For anyone yet to enjoy becoming familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth (rather different from the historical one), the plot follows the murderous acquisition of the throne of Scotland by the warrior Macbeth, in concert with his wife, and the resultant chaos that ensues. Macbeth is seen originally as a great hero and this is one of the few productions that allows us to connect to that idea and see a genuine journey as he becomes a tyrant ‘whose sole name blisters our tongues’.
This Macbeth is presented with subtlety, some originality, and a strong ensemble cast able to effectively support its principles, all well-rooted in Shakespeare’s text and bringing this to believable life. This popular play is so often presented, not always with success, but here is a production worth the seeing.