saints and sinners of the stage and screen
saints and sinners of the stage and screen
The London Welsh Centre and Trust
31st October 2014
Photography supplied by Tigz Theatre
I'm of the opinion Macbeth's a pretty good choice for directors. Unlike some other Shakespeare, there's a whole bunch of themes you can explore - the supernatural, gender politics, the rise of fascism, power, madness, guilt. Take yer pick. Which is why it's always a little upsetting when these issues are squandered, ignored or hand-waved with some imagery but not really deeply delved into. Unfortunately, Tigz Theatre have done exactly that, at best taking Macbeth at face-value and at worst removing a lot of the ambiguity that serves to spark debate about our eponymous Scottish nutter.
I'm not going to recount the plot again. If you don't know it by now, leave. So, on the surface, an all-female production would be a grand way to cut through the knotty problem of the play's presumed misogyny. You know the point, that either the behaviour of Macbeth (in this case played by Elizabeth Appleby) is a) predestined and supernatural, so the witches are to blame, b) not predestined but the witches set him off on it, or c) Lady Macbeth (Rosalind Seal) is a harridan who chides, plots, does the foul deeds and is essentially the guiding hand. At least, that's three common ways of looking at it. Director David Evans, then, could have used his cast to challenge these ideas and uncover some interesting conclusions. But no, the troupe plays men as men, women as women, leading to nothing new.
Equally, the decision to have the witches (Charlie Bannocks, Hannah Keeley and Christie Peto) front and centre, on the tables conversing with the audience (except ours who fell oddly silent, presumably on noticing pads out and pens poised) is a good one, in that quasi-immersive way. But to have them also filling out the cast as courtiers, messengers and assassins simply serves to remove any mystique from the characters' motivations. Here the otherworldly is inextricably linked with the mundane, guiding and influencing at every turn, removing the agency of Macbeth and, to a certain degree, Lady Macbeth.
Finally the third of the issues at play here - fascism. As you'll see from the publicity material, tickets and on the stage, there's a not-so-subtle bit of imagery ripped from one particular naughty man from history. This in itself is fine, but the dots are never connected and a clear path never taken. Macbeth isn't responsible for the deaths of millions of people, he's barely responsible for the deaths of a handful. Okay, his rise to power was arguably ruthless, but that's it. It also seemed to go against the aforementioned concept of agency as laid out above - are we to blame Eva Braun for all of Hitler's wrongdoing?
Unfortunately, too, many performances failed to pop. Macbeth was distinctly characterless to the point that it made me wonder whether it was intentional for him to be so hollow - another clue to his lack of self-determination, perhaps? The majority of the rest of the cast just "were". However Claire-Monique Martin (always the Malcolm, never the Macbeth) did a grand job of bringing some life into a usually thankless role. And the witches, when they did speak, added levity to the proceedings, refreshingly not entirely fitting the maid, mother and crone archetype. Some odd directorial decisions led to famous lines - notably "Is this a dagger I see before me?"( - to be rushed and throwaway. I know ol' Bill pretty much put all of his best ones into the Scottish Play, but that's not an excuse for not giving each and every one of the crowd-pleasers the full weight and gravitas they deserve.
While it's undoubtedly admirable for a fringe production to tackle Macbeth in full, and despite this review apparently going for the jugular, it was a competent effort with flashes here and there of interest. Setting the play with cabaret seating in traverse made for a more immersive experience and the London Welsh Centre is a cracking venue. But the wasted chances to say something innovative are always going to disappoint those looking for a deeper reading of the greats.
Macbeth opened on 31st October and runs until 2nd November 2014 at The London Welsh Centre and Trust.
Nearest tube station: Russell Square (Piccadilly)