So maybe watching The Avengers with its snappy one-liners and quite impressively muscled Thor wasn’t the best idea the night before seeing an Icelandic-influenced production of Macbeth. Sadly, in Jon Gunnar Thor’s production, the invocations of Norse mythology feel almost as tacked on as in Wheedon’s ridiculous – but fun – action film. Jon Gunnar Thor states in his programme notes that the links between the play and Norse myths are evident to him, but even with a working knowledge of those myths it doesn’t feel as though the mythology permeates the play. Rather, every so often an add-on character (Harry Napier, who has a mish-mash of new lines and lines from other characters) appears on stage to insert a little bit of extra story or tell us a snatch of a legend. There is a sense of creeping unease to be found in this fascination with a time of gods, but it sits a little oddly against the otherwise Shakespearian language. God of thunder in Inverness? Perhaps.
Where the Nordic mythology does work, however, is with the witches, or norns. Hooded and masked, the weird sisters are very much of another place and their magic feels potent. With a spinning wheel in place of a cauldron and threads running off in all directions, the fateful scissors which end a life do send a shiver down the spine. Musical Director Napier’s underscoring soundscapes help, too.
In terms of the text, though, in going for weighty, Jon Gun Thor’s production unfortunately ends up ponderous. The language feels difficult and at times incomprehensible, rather than being deeply powerful. Odd decisions have been made to speed up some passages and slow others right down – rhyme is prized over sense and the verse-speaking feels awkward. Meaning is lost as lines get garbled or imbued with more time and weight than they really deserve. It lacks rhythm.
The cast, on the whole, do a decent job but the text-direction lets them down, especially during soliloquays. They feel recited rather than meant or lived. The fight scenes are very well choreographed and brilliantly visceral. No punches are pulled, groins are kneed, necks are snapped. Kudos to Movement Director Hannes Thor Egilsson.
It’s a good production to look at. The cast have an impressive physicality and are light of foot. The language, though, is heavy and the lack of pace is hard to ignore. The play has been truncated, many characters excised altogether and the whole thing runs to just 90 minutes. It should feel clean, pacy, dark, but instead it gets bogged down in the language.
Macbeth is at the Arcola Theatre until 16 November. For more information and tickets, visit the Arcola’s website.