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Macbeth (Susan Elkin reviews)


William Shakespeare

Directed by Liz Love

V&L Productions

Jack Studio Theatre

Star rating: 2

It seems to be the 1960s and three hospital operatives (or is it a slaughterhouse they work in?), dressed in plastic coveralls with hygiene hats are chattering about the weather and meeting again. Of course I knew it was a take on Shakespeare’s famous witches but you’d have been hard put to know what on earth they were if you weren’t a seasoned Macbeth goer. And that rather sets the tone for a 75 minute version of the play in which the story telling is anything but clear.

First, though, the positives: In a cast of eight, Vince Mathews is excellent at Macbeth showing us his character’s chilling downward spiral with passion and flair. It’s a lot of development to pack into such a short time but Mathews takes us convincingly all the way from a weary but decent soldier for Scotland to a beleaguered tyrant with a nice flash of last minute humanity at “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”

The other outstanding performance is  Reece Lewis as Banquo who brings likeable wamth to the early scenes, chilling stillness to the banquet and then successfully doubles as a soldier with a different accent in the final scenes. Both men have a lot of talent and plenty of that hard-to-nail or define quality: compelling stage presence.

Sadly, the production itself is a muddle. Who actually becomes King at the end? Malcolm or Macduff? What we get is an odd conflation which doesn’t fit what remains of the text. And are we really supposed to believe that Lady Macbeth (Rosa Gensdale) would go and warn Lady Macduff (Annabelle Gardner – good) of her impending doom, given that ten minutes before she’s been announcing that she would cheerfully have bashed her own infant to death against the wall as well as plotting, and helping to carry out, regicide? As soon as you start fiddling to this extent with what Shakespeare did you throw up one anomaly after another.

Yes, it’s perfectly possible to abridge Macbeth substantially and I’ve seen many successful short versions but this one feels rushed possibly because there are too many lines left in to get through, Some of these actors gabble them far too fast and throw away all sense of meaning and even those that speak more slowly often sound as if they’re just reciting the lines they’ve so painstakingly learned.

I approve of some of the cuts. The English scene, which can seem very wordy, has gone apart from informing Macduff of the murder of his family. It seems a shame to cut the porter, though and this must be the shortest sleepwalking scene ever. On the other hand, we do get a bit of Hecate and that scene (thought not to be by Shakespeare) is almost always omitted so that’s a strange decision too.

Well done Annabelle Gardner though for speaking these lines with such power: “ I am in this earthly world, where, to do harm / is often laudable; to do good, sometime /Accounted dangerous folly”. They’re not the most obvious or famous lines in the play but they’re remarkably pertinent for our times.

This Macbeth is a valiant effort and I can see that a huge amount of work has gone into it so it gives me no pleasure to say report that it falls short in so many ways.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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