Shakespeare’s mournful tale Macbeth has been performed so many times that you would expect most theatregoers to have seen it once or twice, or at least to know the famous story, right? I wish I could say that this is the case, but I have to confess that I have never seen or read the play, and this proved a bit of a problem. The plot (as I found out later) is pretty simple, but in this performance the heavy Shakespearian language and fast pace of the action left me so baffled that I had to look up the synopsis on the internet during the interval, something a trip to the theatre shouldn’t really involve…
The play started well; the backdrop looked not unlike a ripped up tent with pieces of wood thrown over it, but this worked and set the scene for the violent play whilst allowing versatility for the quick scene changes. The performance began with a physical theatre sequence which was brilliantly executed but rather deceiving – it left me thinking that the production would be a new and exciting take on the over performed Shakespeare play, but I was left disappointed when the rest of the first act seemed to follow a rather standard form with little creativity.
I think this is where the confusion began. Because the language of Shakespeare is unfamiliar, the actors and director need to find other creative ways to get the plot across as the words alone are not enough, but this did not happen. Apart from a gold headband to mark out the King, and when they became royal, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the audience were given no help in working out who each character was meant to be or where each scene was set, which left me very confused amidst a monotonous wash of Shakespearian text.
Creativity did seem to kick in during the second act, however, and the piece was much more enjoyable because of it. Puppets, which were moved by members of the cast, were used to portray the young children of Macduff who are killed by a paranoid Macbeth, and this worked perfectly as it allowed the audience to empathise with their unjust killings, but also gave an interesting insight into the way that Macbeth saw his innocent victims – as mere puppets to be used to help him rise to power.
In the main, the young cast of “six brilliantly versatile performers” deserved that title, and Matthew Wade’s performance as Macbeth was superb; guiding the audience effortlessly through his journey from ambitious young soldier to a grieving and overwhelmingly remorseful murderer. Natalie Thomas gave a strong performance as the domineering Lady Macbeth, but her constant changing of roles (she was the only woman in the cast) seemed unnecessarily confusing. This seems to reflect the overall feeling of the play – there were certain moments of creative brilliance and the cast carried the play well enough for it to be enjoyable overall, but the creativity did not continue throughout and the play was taken too fast for it to be much more than simply confusing.
Macbeth is currently on tour with Custom/Practice, see its website for more information and tour dates.