We could debate long into the night the significance of the witches in Macbeth. They have some of the most memorable lines and their prophesies propel the action along. This production of The Scottish Play by English Touring Theatre settles the debate: The witches are figments of Macbeth’s imagination.
They appear in Macbeth’s nightmares after he has murdered Duncan – all with blonde wigs and dressed like his wife. One of them is pushing a pram.
This production, in association with Shakespeare North Playhouse, Northern Stage and Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg, has a modern setting. Mike Nobel’s Macbeth is today’s man. His wife is today’s woman. That works well.
It is all the more sinister to see Lady Macbeth (Laura Elsworthy who plays her as neurotic from the start) stepping forward gaily in an evening dress, appearing after the explosion of a confetti cannon, presenting her guests with a chocolate cake, when we know that she is preparing to kill some of them.
We see the couple as involved with each other and loving. There is a scene where they dance and another where he caresses her feet.
Some of the action is almost off-stage but reflected on huge screens above the action. This enhances the atmosphere of plot and counter plot, smiling and deception. There are some nice moments of audience participation.
People in the stalls are invited to join the banquet where the ghost of Banquo appears.
But despite all this brilliant innovation and a very smooth production, sadly, much of the poetry of the play, and the power of the inspirational speeches gets lost. The lines are too often delivered at machine-gun pace. At times the desperation to deliver them differently just sucks the soul out of them.
The play would benefit from a general slowing down, allowing the lines to land with the audience. Too often, we don’t see the characters thinking. It is as if they had known for a long time exactly what they are going to say, and they can’t wait to say it.
There is a lot of talent on the stage though. There are strong supporting performances from Leo Wan as Ross (who has the porter’s lines and delivers them with panache), Coral Sinclair as Lady MacDuff, Ross Waiton in multiple roles as Duncan, a murderer and Siward, Jasmine Elcock as Malcolm, and Lola Aluko as Lennox. These are natural performances.
Directed by Richard Twyman, this is a visceral production and an interesting interpretation, but it hasn’t reached the level of power that I believe this cast could.
Macbeth is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, November 11 then touring until March.
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