Produced by Ferodo Bridges, The Macbeths is a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Founded in 2012, the company is an international platform for London-based artists, and is centred around inter-disciplinary performance practice. Directed by Alexander Raptotesios, the play aims to investigate the consumer habits of modern audiences, their desensitisation to violence, and their role as an observer in the theatre. Created through new writing and devised work, Shakespeare’s text is interspersed with a script by Raptotesios and Manolis Tsipos. Performed at the Pleasance in Islington, an international ensemble of six re-create Macbeth in the form of an immersive dinner party, complete with karaoke, food and drink.
The audience are welcomed into the long, rectangular space by the character of Lady Macbeth and are seated at dinner tables on three sides. Designed by Marco Turcich, the stage is filled by a long table, crowded by six chairs and platters of cured meats. The walls are covered in a semi-transparent plastic, and a door opening behind the table is barred by PVC strip curtains. The design is perhaps the finest and most detailed element of the piece, serving as a precarious anchor for the company’s excessive theatrical conceptualisation.
It feels as if the group has spread itself too thin. To begin with, Shakespeare demands a great level of care when approached as a source material – a trait that the company do not seem to possess. As a spectator, the entire event is exhausting. It is as though the classic tragedy has been snapped over the knee of the director, before beginning a childish attempt to use immersivity and audio-visual elements to glue it together again.
Macbeth, now a thousand-piece jigsaw is left to a cast of six characters: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Banquo, Malcolm, Macduff and Duncan. The casting for these characters is unusual, with both Macbeth and Banquo being played by women, however this decision is never really justified in the production. Furthermore, Banquo is referred to with a female pronoun, whereas Macbeth is not – which adds to the confusion.
Similarly, the characterisation of Duncan was most peculiar. Dressed in a white faux-fur jacket, he wears emerald green eyeshadow and large gold hoop earrings. The highly ostentatious nature of the King of Scotland is perplexing. If it is a comic device then it is weak, if not slightly problematic. In a monologue/ impromptu karaoke performance of ‘Don’t You’ by Simple Minds, he also appears to die of natural causes. This is perhaps the most insulting innovation performed by the group, as it renders the entire narrative meaningless and nonsensical from then on.
Duncan’s death holds no poignancy or power, much like the monotonous delivery of lines from the cast. With the exception of Macduff, each actor lacks the chops to make the verse sing. Upon his departure from the world of the living, Duncan leaves the stage and sits in the audience. The same can be said of Banquo, who, once dead joins him as a spectator. This comes after the actor has exchanged the female character of Banquo for that of ‘Fatima’, a Turkish refugee, which comes across as another misguided attempt at political expressionism too boring to decipher.
The Macbeths concludes leaving more questions than it begins with. Ferodo Bridges boast an innovative approach to the work that they produce, and are “not afraid of nonsense”: an ethos that they should seriously rethink.
The Macbeths is playing at the Pleasance Theatre until April 30.