Review: Macbeeth, Hen and Chickens Theatre

I’d probably have appreciated Macbeeth better had I not the night before watched some Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace with friends, which remains one of the most perfect examples of genre parody and satirical ineptitude to exist. Macbeeth has funny moments, and its cast and crew are clearly very earnest, but what Red Squash Theatre’s pleasantly streamlined – only an hour long! – production is lacking for me is a clear sense of what it is trying to accomplish, and what it is trying to be.

Rory Fairbairn, Alexander Tol and Holly MacFarlane are smooth and quick throughout as they at least quadruple the parts of Macbeeth between them; their energy never drops, and MacFarlane in particular stands out for her bright composure that makes her a pleasure to watch in action. Some very smart production choices have been made which both contribute to the handmade, shoddy air of amateur dramatics that they’re trying to foster, and add to the convenience of the tiny cast. The moments of waiting for a cast member to change costumes and return to the stage is emphasised, the choreography and blocking is watertight, and Fairbairn plays all three witches with twin sock puppets.

The characters, however (both the original Shakespearean characters whom we see truncated versions of here, and the hinted-at, clumsy ‘actors’ portraying them) are not strongly individuated. We don’t know why, for them, this intentionally bad production or farcical grab for power is happening. It’s parody without a particular point, which confuses me, yet Macbeeth does advertise itself as “95% actual Shakespeare”, so it isn’t mismarketed: it certainly is a concise version of the story, with added silliness. Sometimes they grasp at meta-humour, though this is in no way the framework for the show, as mostly the gags just come thick and fast. But when this results in Tol and MacFarlane committing with all seriousness to certain monologues as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectively, but are then followed promptly by the ‘joke’ of a guard stuffing down Celebrations and having to answer the king with a full mouth, neither a truly comic effect nor real concern for the characters is achieved.

I’m probably being far too harsh. If the aim is to provide the majority of the audience with a fun hour, Macbeeth is a light-hearted and not too ambitious show, and is there anything wrong with that? What the company have on their hands here is a competent parody which should by all means have a welcome run at the Hen and Chickens this Christmas, particularly thanks to the festive spirit and general eagerness to have a good laugh between us.

Macbeeth is playing at Hen and Chickens Theatre until 16 December 2017

Photo: Red Squash Theatre