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Flabbergast Theatre presents Macbeth at Southwark Playhouse

The need to come up with a fresh take on something as renowned as Shakespeare’s Macbeth is understandable. But I trust it is not too much to ask to be able to hear the dialogue, which wasn’t always possible, sometimes because someone was being drowned out by the ensemble saying or chanting something else at the same time, and/or because of loud drumming. The Porter of Act II Scene II usually provides some comic relief, though this adaptation has a light-footed fancifulness to it in the first half that makes the production almost seem like a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream instead. So, the Porter here is instead an outright clown, complete with direct engagement with the audience. It blends into rather than contrasts with what occurs immediately beforehand and afterwards.

The Tragedy of Macbeth. Credit Michael Lynch.
The Tragedy of Macbeth. Credit Michael Lynch.

Often referred to as ‘the Scottish play’, this is probably the most English-accented version of it I’ve ever come across. Everyone is dressed similarly, as though they’ve all been involved in a brawl on a mud floor. For all the noise created, the production is as beige as it looks. The production also seems to rely on members of the audience having some previous knowledge of the play, which ironically makes it all but impossible to entirely suspend disbelief in order to fully embrace this version of it with fresh eyes. Then again, I suppose the bowing down of subjects towards their king when everyone looks more or less the same says something about how all people, in the end, have far more in common than societal structures would have us believe.

There are some engaging moments, such as the convincing conversations between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (the show’s programme contains cast biographies but no character list: I’m told the cast do not play the same parts at every performance). The children in the play are portrayed by puppets – I shall leave it to those more intellectual than I am to determine whether this signifies how they are totally controlled and manipulated by adults and/or vulnerable and dependent on them.

Then there are the witches, whose influence over proceedings is the clearest thing in this otherwise chaotic production, which throws the kitchen sink and then some at the audience in terms of dramatic techniques – there’s some physical theatre, dancing, singing, as well as the aforementioned drumming and puppetry. At one point, paper party hats are distributed to a lucky (or unfortunate) few. It might well be different from the near-relentless gloom of some productions of this play – and I rather liked the complete absence of fake blood whenever someone died. The witches are more visible, and for far longer, than one might expect.

It would be unfair to assert that the show is entirely lacking in subtlety: the Clown Porter (so to speak) even repeatedly calls for quiet in one scene, and some of its best moments come when the text is allowed to shine without embellishment. However, in its focus on soundscapes, the production doesn’t universally do well when it comes to delivering the Bard’s lines, some of which were too rushed. The show does, at least, have plenty of energy and intrigue.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

In this classic tale of greed and guilt, Flabbergast’s Macbeth fuses a rigorous and respectful approach to text and storytelling to bring a magical, lucid interpretation of Shakespeare’s blood-soaked tragedy to life.

Playing to their strengths and background in puppetry, clown, mask, ensemble and physical theatre, Flabbergast have developed their first narrative text-based production (after extensive R&D with Wilton’s Music Hall London and Grotowski Institute Poland). They present the bard’s original text accompanied by and supported with exhilarating live music to produce a provocative and enjoyably accessible show.

The Company
Matej Matejka – MOVEMENT

Flabbergast Theatre presents
by William Shakespeare
14 MAR – 8 APR 2023

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