‘Where are we?’ is the question that repeatedly came to mind during this production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, trying to set aside thoughts of previous productions and adaptations. I eventually had to give up and rely on prior knowledge to find my place: make of that what you will. I have mixed feelings about having to do that – it didn’t disappoint me, but I do wonder how much of a success those who are seeing this famous play for the first time find this production to be.
The costumes, at the risk of judging a book by its cover, are not particularly impressive at all. Even the Scottish nobility seems to be kitted out by Next or Urban Outfitters. This shouldn’t be a concern in itself, especially if the play has been re-set in modern times, but there is no indication, other than the attire, that it has. I do not mean to cast disdain on casualwear in general, except to say that I found it ill-fitting for the majesty of both Shakespeare’s blank verse and the rank and privilege of some of the characters.
There is, as far as I could deduce, little if any attempt at Scottish accents. Perhaps one or two voices were naturally Caledonian. As Macbeth (Tom Hartill) cries, “I am Thane of Cawdor!” in a distinctly southern voice, it was a struggle to maintain suspension of disbelief. Thane of Camden, maybe. Elsewhere, I have no issue with Banquo, a male character, being played by a woman (Jane Elsmore), but whose idea was it to have her say lines talking upstage (that is, away from the audience) more than once? It has the effect of making her lines difficult to hear.
This production is very subtle (for Macbeth), except where events necessitate some assertiveness. Shakespearean purists, I may as well plainly state, will not be happy with this rendering. Lines are, more often than not, delivered with somewhat less intensity than would normally be expected. For instance, at the Jamie Lloyd Company’s Trafalgar Studios production in 2013, starring James McAvoy, such were the volume levels that at one point I thought the theatre would do well to sell ear defenders. I may be too unduly influenced by that production, and the usual style of the Royal Shakespeare Company to proclaim more than softly speak. To be fair to this particular production, it rarely feels as though characters lack conviction even when speaking lines comparatively nonchalantly, and the softer approach gives the play more nuance and maturity.
A very simple stage, using the most essential of props throughout, meant there were some very quick and smooth scene changes, which kept things flowing and did not break the pace of the play. The set consisted entirely of translucent plastic sheeting, which itself proved occasionally as distracting as plastic confectionery wrapping being rustled in the audience during a performance. Coloured lights made both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s bloody hands in Act Two Scene Two seem as though fake blood had been substituted for brown sauce, leaving me somewhat nonplussed in a scene where I should not have been amused.
While uneven casting leads to an overall varied performance, Laura Murray’s Lady Macbeth is the most convincing person on stage. Comparative strength and compelling acting combine to magnify the significance of her plotting and actions. The second half was infinitely better than the first, as though the company were a football team that received a highly motivational half-time talk and acted (ahem) accordingly. Still, the hailed King of Scotland in jeans! At least that’s a sight I won’t forget for some time.
A good attempt at one of the most often performed Shakespeare plays: imperfect but satisfying.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Shakespeare’s story of ambition, betrayal and corruption is brought vividly to life in one of London’s premier Off West-End venues, The Steiner Theatre, in a brand new production by critically acclaimed theatre company, Full Houses Theatre.
Set in the crumbling husk of a dystopian world, scarred by loss and a lifetime of war, one man begins a doomed quest for power. Guided by the woman he loves, and beguiled by supernatural forces, we follow Macbeth and his transformation from a decorated hero, to murderous Warlord, steeped in the blood of friend and foe alike.
by William Shakespeare
Presented by Full Houses Theatre
Directed by Jack Brackstone-Brown
Booking to 30th July 2016