EFR - Reviews of Macbeth

Macbeth

Mon 5th – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Amber Segal

at 04:29 on 8th Aug 2013

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A totally stripped down set is a risky choice for Shakespeare. Nevertheless, in this performance, it pays off. The prop-empty stage is soon filled with the ghosts of carefully selected lines. Each speech hangs in the air like Banquo at the feast, while the play continues around it at a riveting pace.

Engrossing and visceral, the performance brings Macbeth into a modern and military setting through costume, while the words remain Shakespeare’s own. These lines are delivered with such naturalism that it is obvious the cast know the writing inside out. Thomas McNulty, in the eponymous role, carries this word-heavy part with strength. He makes each sentence mean what it is supposed to with a simultaneously relaxed and commanding delivery. This may not sound like particularly high praise, but it eradicates the alienation that is sometimes caused by a Shakespearian script and brings to light different elements of the character.

Considering the naturalism of the piece, I was concerned that Lady Macbeth (Georgie Franklin) could become too dramatic. Her claustrophobic and breathy ‘Out Damned Spot’, however, removed all concerns about this impressive performer. The chemistry between Franklin and McNulty was electric, and the quality of acting amongst the rest was incredibly high. Appearances by the weird sisters’ (Cecily Money-Coutts, Beth Greenwood, Heather Cave) are truly terrifying - a nightmarish mismatch of blindness, pregnancy and sensuality.

The blocking was a problem in places and, particularly at the beginning of the show, I was unable to see the majority of the stage. It perhaps would have helped to take into account those sitting at the side. However, this added another realistic element to the exchanges, as one felt more like a spy than an audience member.

With direction by Matt Dann, the five-hundred year old script was transformed into a gritty reality, doing justice to both the psychology and violence of the Scottish Play. As daggers are clutched throughout, tension is held high. Lights were used to great effect in Lady Macbeth’s madness scene, but were otherwise unflinchingly bright. As they were lowered for the final time, I felt like I had survived a gruelling ordeal and applauded in a trance.

This unforgiving adaptation is as captivating as Shakespeare gets. With a brilliant and unusual command of the language, this performance is frightening, sexy and down to earth.

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Matthew Davies

at 10:11 on 8th Aug 2013

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Shakespeare adaptations have a tendency to go big and high concept – often at the cost of human drama. Luckily, Thrust Stage avoid this, working with a small-capacity space to present an excellent no-frills adaptation of 'Macbeth' which focuses on the emotions and personalities at the heart of the play.

This is achieved in no small part, thanks to the efforts of the actors to deliver Shakespeare’s lines in a manner relatable to modern audiences. The original dialogue of the play remains unaltered, but is rendered in a way which seems far more present and immediate. Many of the play’s more memorable lines are so well known they’ve become clichés, so it’s refreshing to hear them like this.

I don’t mean to say, however, that the play’s delivery is at all pedestrian or matter-of-fact, and in fact the opposite is true. Thomas McNulty (Macbeth) in particular acts and speaks with a real intensity and earnestness – this is powerful, emotive stuff. Similarly, Georgie Franklin infuses Lady Macbeth’s every breath and motion with a certain manic unpredictability. The rest of the cast are, by-and-large, very good, although the production wisely focused on these two standouts, and minor characters tend to lack definition. It’s this laser-focus on Macbeth and his wife which helps to keep the narrative coherent and powerful, even to the detriment of other characters.

The characters are garbed in modern military gear, making for a clean and effective look. The respective ranks of the various characters are illustrated through this military theme, although changes in costume over the course of the play are minor. This is perhaps a missed opportunity: it would have been interesting to see Macbeth’s rise to power marked in visual terms. Still, the simplicity of the costume design – and scarcity of props – places the focus on the actors and the dynamics which play out between them.

Simplicity is a word which more than adequately describes this production of 'Macbeth', and that’s no bad thing. Many Shakespeare adaptations, particularly at the Fringe, struggle to make the Bard’s complicated narratives fit into the confines of a one-hour performance. Thrust Stage haven’t quite managed this feat – their production clocks out at around one hour and twenty-five minutes – but they have produced a version of 'Macbeth' which is brilliantly simplistic, and avoids recourse to flashy set-design or cheap gimmicks, and for that they should be applauded.

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