Around halfway through Jethro Compton’s The Bunker Trilogy production of Macbeth, fireworks start going off signalling the end of the Tattoo. It feels fitting that, in a production which puts the play underground during the First World War, explosions start going off as the protagonist’s demise becomes clear. But though there are loud bangs outside, the production itself is only really fizzing by comparison.
In this extremely pared back version, the first thing we see is a woman gliding across the claustrophobic but detailed set before a phone call is received by Macbeth announcing his wife’s death. We then rewind back to Banquo and Macbeth, but as the show continues we then see snippets of the final battle, as if this is the present and the rest of the Scottish king’s life is being whizzed forward in flashback. Except for the protagonist, his wife and Banquo, there are no characters to speak of; all of the other lines necessary are spoken by anonymous figures in gas masks.
At the very least, this demonstrates that Macbeth is at its heart a thriller about a man who gets caught up in his own story. But, inevitably, we lose quite substantial facets of the play, especially feeling empathy for Duncan and Macduff; when one dies and the other saves the day, it’s hard to care.
Sometimes, too, the performances edge perilously close to the border of “big stage acting”, so than rather than allow the space to do the work, some moments – like the dagger monologue – fall a bit too heavily. That said, the cast cope with the stage well, with Dan Wood injecting humour into Banquo, James Marlowe finding ways to be interesting in his many ‘chorus’ roles and Sam Donnelly as the lead showing a clear emotional journey, but sometimes allows the verse to become muddled. Serena Manteghi’s Lady Macbeth is most impressive, remaining just subtle enough for the space without losing her character’s sense of performance, and speaking the poetry of Shakespeare’s text with a cutting naturalism.
Compton has here managed to make the epic feel intimate, and gives the play a real sense of drive even if some of the tragedy is missing. Though I would love to see more how the First World War context affects the play, it’s still a smart production choice. It’s full of promise, but the fuse burns out just before it reaches the rocket, so we never quite get those longed-for fireworks.
The Bunker Trilogy: Macbeth is at C Nova until 26 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.