Skip to content


The Curse of Macbeth
Published on Tuesday, 09 August 2011

4 stars

The Playhouse at Hawke and Hunter Green Room (venue website)
3-14, 16-29 Aug, 4:00pm-5:10pm
Reviewed by Ellen Macpherson

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

Although No. 12 Picardy Place is as swanky a venue as you’ll find in Edinburgh, the feeling of entering the Green Room is similar to walking into a dungeon – a very appropriate setting for this psychologically jarring production. Faceless, masked figures line the way in, giving an immediate sense of torment and horror. The ominous lights and the smoke machine, too, create a sense of imminent danger. And while the production’s killer props – its mirrors – are in clear view from the start, it’s not until the play begins that the slick professionalism of the set is fully revealed.

The use of reflection is inspired, and very, very clever. The mirrors work in two ways, switching from transparent glass to reflection and back again. A lot of the time, they’re used transparently to provide an image of the Three Witches (or faceless masked men) tormenting the various characters. While I sometimes thought that it would have been just as effective to skip that visual, and reflect the character themselves – as was done in one fabulous, stand-out Macbeth speech – the silent watchers were relevant and effective in most scenes.

I have to give credit where it’s due regarding the smoke machine as well. I usually detest smoke machines, which I find tacky and unnecessary, but combined with all the other production devices on set they served to create a kind of 4D experience this time round.

As for the acting, this is one of the few times I can legitimately say that it was flawless. Some props and effects were overused or unnecessary (for example, the odd sound effects during Macbeth’s famous ‘Dagger’ speech), but the dedication these actors showed to their craft proved ample compensation. Macbeth was utterly convincing in his descent to madness; it was the little things that made his performance excel, like the twitching of his fingers in perfectly regular moments. Lady Macbeth too was as genuinely insane as I’ve ever seen her to be, but the surprise standouts had to be MacDuff and Lady MacDuff, who both provided touching scenes surrounding the death of Lady MacDuff and her babes.

There were moments of humour too – a facet that modern versions usually forget about – with the Porter bringing the play back to basics through some excellent drunken ‘knock knock’ humour.  This adaptation won’t be for everyone, though. Its focus on psychological horror is intense: Macbeth wastes no time in his insane quest for blood. Staunch traditionalists might be better off staying at home and watching a Kenneth Branagh DVD, but for those with even a slightly open mind, I unhesitatingly encourage you to get along and see it.

If anything, I’d expected it to be more alternative and stranger than it actually was; while there are elements of alternate theatre, the production never really loses sight of the traditional play.  And when you can get the audience cheering after a heavy, bloodthirsty play like The Curse of Macbeth, you’re not doing much wrong. It might not be perfect, but it’s one of the best Macbeth productions I’ve seen; so, if you see only one adaptation of Shakespeare’s work at the Fringe, I’d suggest you make it this one.

<< The Man of Mode   The Cagebirds >>