Thursday, October 20, 2016

Is that Macbeth I see before me? (C21 Theatre, Grand Opera House until 22 October)

It’s quite an undertaking to shrink a Shakespeare play down to 70 minutes, reduce the number of characters, keep in the most important parts of the script and keep audiences of school children and adults engaged. But it’s what C21 Theatre Company manage to do every autumn. Last year it was The Merchant of Venice, this year Macbeth.

Director Arthur Webb has a knack of making bold cuts in the Bard’s cloth and stitching the finished garment back together with panache and a modern style of direction. Shakespeare might be quite jealous that characters can talk over each other and ingeniously take over each other’s lines mid sentence.

The set is a simple blood-smattered canvass stretched across the width of the stage and the props kept small and handheld. A cast of six play sixteen characters between them. Accompanied by sound effects and a some out of sight drumming, the actors appear around the corner with their new costumes colour coded with the tartan of the clan they’re now playing. Kilts have been replaced with overcoats. The plastic binoculars appear anachronistic, though the technology was patented contemporaneously with the writing of Macbeth.

Fiery eyed and red haired Maeve Smyth plays a stern, calculating and driven Lady Macbeth opposite Adrian Cooke’s self-doubting but eyebrow-rich Macbeth who is plagued by socially-awkward visions. Michael Johnston’s Duncan is tall and weedy with a regal beard. Banquo and Lennox are animated by Mark Claney. Debra Hill and Chris Mohan mop up nine characters and countless costume changes between them.

The three witches (no gender barriers in this show!) almost steal the show with their discordant chanting and choreographed movement.

While the young audience at the matinee I attended smirked and giggled at any sign of kissing or mention of nipples – pity their English teachers! – the production steers away from introducing superfluous moments of comedy, leaving that to the recent light-hearted tour of Shakespeare’s complete works.
“This dead butcher and his fiendlike queen”

It’s a fast paced tour of the play, with none of the bloody gore of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard’s sordid big screen version. Tension rises as the unremitting body count increases (always out of sight) and the portfolio of characters shrinks to the final handful of lucky souls who make it through to the far end alive.

Some tickets are still available for the last few days of Macbeth’s run in the Grand Opera House, which finishes on Saturday 22 October.

No comments: