TREACHEROUS murder was committed in Wils Wilson’s no-holds-barred, tricksy Macbeth, but any jury would still be out on whether the victim was actually the one the author intended. Either way, it has to be said there were many casualties and much to be mourned.
Packed with movement, gender swap casting, loud acting, mismatched costumes and enough ideas to fill a double album, this is a production long on inspiration but woefully short on sense.
The decision to alter the text to reflect the genders in the cast gives us clumsy imposters for some of the play’s better known lines. The company’s ongoing policy of shaking up the genders often brings to light an aspect of the play not previously seen but it’s hard to make that case here.
The Porter’s scene, a perennial opportunity for someone to overact in search of sadly elusive comedy, gets the most surprising makeover of all with TV comic Stewart Lee called in to redraft the whole thing as a foul-mouthed, club circuit stand-up routine complete with topical gags and a microphone. Bizarrely it works, although its value in a production already overladen with gimmicky nonsense is hard to assess.
Amid the uncontrolled and scattergun daftness there are some decent performances. Therese Bradley’s Queen Duncan is decent and George Anton’s Macduff seems to be imagining himself in a far more conventional, thoughtful production until he’s ultimately tripped up in one of the most prolonged and yet pedestrian fight scenes you could wish to see.
As Macbeth Reuben Joseph veers in style from introspective to show-off without really settling at any point. None of the key soliloquies is given without the distraction of stage business, whether that be the interruptions from other characters, playing noisily with a stool or delivering the ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech from the mic stand. There may have been an intended purpose to avoiding actually playing the part, but the nature of that tactic was never clear.
Lady Macbeth in the bloodied, but never still hands of Valene Kane is a woman whose murderous thoughts never seem completely able to articulate themselves in coherent words. Spiky, edgy certainly but to have so much of Shakespeare’s poetry delivered in chopped, shouted bursts was as galling as it was wearing.
Elsewhere so much pace is taken out of every scene presumably in the hope of achieving gravitas, that the Bard’s shortest tragedy manages, in this production, to overstay its welcome despite having everything thrown at it.
There’s war recast as dance, witches from a nightmarish Kate Bush video, the least scary ghost of Banquo ever and the whole thing is presented against an unwelcome brass-inspired soundtrack somewhere between distant bagpipes and trapped wind.
Early on in the piece Lady Macbeth attempts to burn her husband’s letter bringing news of the witches’ prophecy. The match splutters a few times before it strikes and, when the paper simply won’t ignite, she gives up. In truth you couldn’t find a better metaphor for the whole thing: tricks, ideas, postures, risks in bucketloads, but never really catching fire.