Venue: Drama Barn
Student directors putting on Shakespeare, especially the better known plays, are in a precarious position. Shakespeare carries a heavy weight in theatre, and it was an enormous relief to see Wilem Powell totally ignore the sanctity associated with a play as well known, and well-loved as Macbeth. Instead, what we were given was Macbeth according to Wilem, and the result was astounding, disturbing and wholly satisfying. Be prepared people, Shakespeare this sure ‘aint.
What Macbeth most closely resembles instead, is a frantic, hugely stripped down adaptation of the Scottish play; transposing the action, with sinister success, to a modern police state, where every movement is monitored over CCTV and danger lurks behind every grim, grey corner. The set comes across as something of a mix between a prison and an abattoir, with clear plastic strip curtains serving as a beautifully horrid focal point. Coming it at about 2 hours, the play feels rapid and frantic; and the production oozes cool – blood and violence abound (Stanley knives have never been used to such satisfying and gruesome effect), music is used to mostly satisfying effect and ultimately, the cast all give perfectly pitched performances, carrying the show through with unbridled energy and slickness.
The show is not faultless however, and initially I left the first half feeling that the production’s insistence on being ‘cool,’ meant that the narrative suffered. The first few acts became particularly muddled as I searched my head for what was happening in the play at this time. It was confusing and poorly paced, but I came to realise by the end of the show that this mattered very little, because this was not the Macbeth we know. The play starts with the very un-Shakespearian line, ‘Fucking hell,’ which works perfectly to instantly dislocate the play from its source. What follows is a bloody, modern take on the Macbeth story, which never has any pretence as to what it is. It is happy to stray from the text, and it’s a wonderful thing too.
Wilem’s production is vision focused and performance driven, and Tim Kelly’s Macbeth and Saffia Sage’s Lady Macbeth are incredible. Kelly plays Macbeth with utter transparency, an angry adolescent constantly striving for acceptance from the maternal yet cold Lady Macbeth. The two work very well together, and an early embrace between the two encapsulates the desperate wanting of Macbeth and underlying maternal influence of his wife. A mention must go too to Jamie Bowman and James Esler, whose partnership as Macduff and Malcolm culminates in a heart wrenching scene, played with sincerity, naturalism and honesty. I could spend the entire review praising the individual performances of this show: Venetia Cook’s Porter treads the line between comedy and treachery beautifully, Georgina Wilmer gives a knockout Lady Macduff, Golfgo Migos horrifies as the Murderer … but I digress.
What this production needs to be praised for is its ballsiness. Everybody involved in Macbeth is entirely on board with what it’s trying to do, which is to make Shakespeare fresh; which is achieved in abundance. If you’d never seen or read Macbeth and then saw this production, you’d arguably be none the wiser as to what the play is. But that doesn’t matter. This is not Shakespeare’s Macbeth; this is at its worst a sometimes contrived production focusing on cool, but at its best it is something new and something very different, trimming the fat and giving us a show that is slick, polished and wonderfully entertaining.