I have seen far too many interpretations of Macbeth that do not reach the mark, but Fools Play Collective have cleverly merged past brilliance with present themes. In their hands, ‘Mac is back’ in a fast-paced, witty and visually striking performance at Edinburgh’s Zoo venues. Drawing on physical theatre, dance and more traditional forms of acting, they knit together a story that is both familiar and surprising at the same time.
War, power and solidarity are tricky topics to speak of in contemporary politics and even more so on the theatre stage, but the company shows a sensitivity and wisdom beyond their age in making sense of what happens to individuals under such extreme pressures. Instead of making a ‘new Macbeth’, they use the Scottish play in their very own innovative and effective way, borrowing what works and scrapping what does not. The plot is transformed and transposed to the Middle East and told through the eyes of a young female journalist who is sent to write a feature on the hero in a band of soldiers. When she arrives, however, she discovers that heroism, friendship, loyalty and honour are not what she thought they would be in a zone of war.
The only character we get to know fully is the journalist, baffled and trying to understand in a way that is easy for the audience to empathise with. Her comic character adds a good dose of humour with her overeager intention to be a good reporter. This is both a relief in an otherwise dark plot and a well-chosen effect that puts the more metaphorical scenes in an eerie and unsettling context. Mac and his fellow soldiers, as well as Lady Mac, remain obscure, illuminated in sections of wordless physical interaction or through well-written exchanges of words that are loaded with meaning. The appearance of the three witches alludes to the entwinement of financial interest and geopolitical warfare in contemporary conflict zones – more suggested at than articulated, but fitting with the dirty game of power and betrayal amongst the soldiers.
Whilst there were some threads of the storyline that were not fully explored or that did not make full sense in the wider context – I wonder, for example, why the journalist hesitated to tell her story, or why it is no one would believe her? – there was so much to enjoy within the work that these remain minor details. Our Soldier is both a word-driven and a visual spectacle that captures important undercurrents without overtly having to express them. I am excited to see where this company will turn their creative energies next and hope they will delve deeper into the themes they have started exploring here.
**** – 4/5 stars
Our Soldier is playing at Zoo venues as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 25 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.