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Macbeth: Who is that Bloodied Man?
Published on Wednesday, 08 August 2012
4

4 stars

Old College Quad (venue website)
Theatre
2-13 Aug, 10:30pm-11:30pm
Reviewed by Jane Bristow

 Recommended for age 14+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Having been stalked down the street by two ten-foot-high figures in flowing black robes, just to be handed a leaflet, I was intrigued at what to expect from their show. This turned out to be a radical Polish production, Macbeth: Who is That Bloodied Man, by the Teatr Biuro Podrozy – who have clearly gone to some lengths to stand out from the four other Macbeths appearing at this year’s Fringe. In the end I wasn’t disappointed by their play, which featured fire, nudity, motorbikes… and even a little Shakespeare.

Staged outdoors after dark, in the quad of Edinburgh’s magnificent Old College, the murder of King Duncan becomes a military coup against a cruel dictatorship. However, the new ruler – Macbeth – is equally brutal, particularly as he’s manipulated by the malicious weird sisters and to a lesser extent his insane wife.

All the action is viewed by the audience on three sides of the stage, at the same level as the actors (well, except when the actors are on stilts). At times this was incredibly unsettling. Massive dark shapes approached to search for Banquo as he sought to hide from his murderers; speeding motorbikes seemed to narrowly avoid the audience, and guns were shot wildly across the stage.

Yet die-hard fans of Shakespeare may be disappointed by the lack of dialogue. Even on the occasions when we got a few lines, the sound system made it impossible to hear the words clearly, and it often wasn’t immediately apparent what scene was being played. Perhaps this was deliberate, but it means that it’s a definite advantage to have a thorough knowledge of the plot. And the knock-on effect was that individual characters did not develop much depth, instead relying on the magnificent staging to do the hard work.

For me, I must admit, the whole thing did succeed – but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. Whatever your view, this is a brave portrayal: a visually spectacular performance which at points literally exploded with energy. Although it played down the all-important language of Shakespeare, it was utterly refreshing and just a little terrifying. So, not one for thesps, but a stunning piece of theatre nevertheless. Take your raincoat and see it.

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