There are many things that go through ones mind when they go to a performance of Macbeth. Expectations and previous versions they may have seen etc but I promise you, none of the things that I was expecting appeared in Volcano Theatres original take on the Shakespearean tragedy. Macbeth is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s play so I was rather nervous of the performances, having seen productions both good and frankly painful, I craved something that did it justice … and that’s exactly what I was awarded.
The performance started with a pre-show of sorts, our main male protagonist standing mainly by a portable heater, stirring a concoction I couldn’t quite see, but I wondered if it had anything to do with the undeniable and potent smell of garlic. I hope this wasn’t just some overly pungent sector of the theatre that hadn’t been cleaned, because truly it felt as if it was intentional, and it helped to immerse us into what would be a fascinating and sensory experience.
Our main female protagonist is also circling the stage, again sprinkling something I couldn’t place – which, too, could have been responsible for the garlic smell – and she would occasionally stop and look deadpan up at the audience with a sinister air to her mood. This sinister air, I must admit I felt myself, for while the staging and effective pre-show was highly entertaining the distractingly loud and obnoxious entrances of certain audience members were not. While I understand pre-shows help to give a performance to those who are already seated, and fill the gap until the whole theatre is full, a pre-show is always an interesting thing to see and I wish more people would be aware of that. BUT I DIGRESS.
Surprisingly, and I’m not sure if this is giving away too much, but the characters just mentioned are the only ones included… albeit with a few interactive surprises I won’t go into, surprises I believe are better experienced first hand. That’s it, a 2 person Macbeth. A 2 person Macbeth which is essentially half the length of the original Macbeth. How fascinatingly interesting is that?
I began the play, already heavily intrigued by the beautifully simple, and in many instances, modern staging with, rather disturbingly, a large presence of baby dolls. We are presented with, in essence, a physical theatre piece that serves almost as it’s own narrative, almost frightening and violent in its nature it is a certainly dramatic start. Then the atmosphere is completely turned on it’s head and we are brought into a thanks of sorts, where the actors – supposedly both out and in character – discussing the fact we are there. They speak of time, similarities, differences, politics and religion in what is a rather hilarious skit – yes full on hilarity in Macbeth, like I said it’s original – this then sets the pace and tone for the rest of the performance. Now, at this point I had a huge smile on my face and my posture naturally changed to a much more invested position and stature, I was hooked, I was ready to see something new. I couldn’t tell whether it was the presentation of it, whether it was the particular audience in that night, or whether it was simply a divisive thing but I couldn’t help but notice some did not side with that tone. Some were laughing and enjoying, but this laughter, and certain elements that were away from the traditional Macbeth story seemed to bother audiences. That is always the problem with transforming or adapting a classic: there will always be people who are there to see the original and nothing more. So, as an extension to that, I will say if you are going to see Macbeth and only Macbeth, that epic tragedy we are all familiar with, then remove that expectation immediately.
There was a style to it, an almost beautifully relevant underlying atmosphere to it, that disturbs us in hindsight. Maybe it is just me, but I cannot help but think that the performance (in its original tour) was “banned in Worthing and frowned upon in Newbury” because of it’s bravery and of this hindsight disturbance. Let me explain what I mean by this. The play is, above all else, one of the greatest presentations of the behavioural essence of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, we feel their greed, their lust and their psychoticism more than we ever have before. The modernism of this, the clever little references and scenes of a much more relevant nature to us, are perfect examples of modern greed and performance. Either I completely misunderstood or it genuinely was what I was seeing but it felt almost as if it was 2 children, obsessed with drama, and with Macbeth the play, who selected bits they loved and performed them to their relatives. Now who cannot relate to that?
As a child, constantly fascinated by theatre, by the power of acting and the unrelenting progress of the medium I would put on performances for anyone I could. To my aunt primarily, I’d perform accents, little skits, little dramatic monologues, because I wanted to perform and I wanted people to enjoy my performance. THIS is, for me, the primary concern and style that accompanies Macbeth: Directors Cut. All the best, and significant elements of Macbeth cut into this larger framework of 2 people wanting to perform and wanting people to watch them perform. It is like we are watching two performances at once, and you cannot appreciate the truly engrossing originality of it unless you recognise that there are, essentially, two narratives to it.
Being that it is my own take on the performance, and that is how I interpreted it, albeit with some doubt and confusion on my part to whether I was just completely reading it wrong, I would love to watch it a second time. It is one of those performances that leaves you wondering, and thinking, and debating with yourself about different elements. “But they said this, and they did this…” so on and so forth.
It is this style, however, if you do read it as such, that leaves us with that hindsight of disturbance because we can see how this performance within a performance is so relevant to our own need, at least in an actors life, to perform and to please. Whats-more is it confronts how that need, that greed that accompanies it occasionally can turn into something far more sinister.
I knew very little of the older performance that ran 18 years ago and started the conversation of this originality, but I can only speak of the newer generation performing. And what I say of them: Mairi Phillips playing Lady Macbeth and Alex Harries playing Macbeth is that they were so enchanting in their delivery, compelling in their connection with us and, most of all, believable that I can only rave about it. Above all else, the performance was an original, hypnotizing and occasionally endearing piece of hilarity and tragedy.
4/5 (purely because I do feel like I need to see it again before I could give it a full 5, something still feels void in parts of my brain towards sections. But overall a beautiful piece)