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Macbeth
Published on Saturday, 01 September 2012
3

3 stars

C venues - C (venue website)
Theatre
1-12, 14-27 Aug, 9:05pm-10:35pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

It seems there are now more Fringe productions parodying and deconstructing Shakespeare plays than actually putting them on – an irony I don’t think I’ll ever get my head around. For Macbeth alone there’s Macbeth Unsexed, Lady M, and The Macbeth Project among various other radical interpretations of the Scottish Play. Putting on a semi-traditional Macbeth is becoming the alternative thing to do; and even this, the least messed-with version that I could find this year, uproots the play and sets it in World War II. But hey; it’s close enough.

There is an awful lot of potential here. World War II is potentially a perfect setting, a time of conflict (vital for a production of Macbeth) that more or less everyone is at least aware of. And there is one specific element that company As Told By gets absolutely, sensationally spot on. Unfortunately however, the rest of the production is more hit and miss.

Let’s start with the sensationally good – namely, the Weird Sisters. Rather than the sparingly-used harpies and harbingers of doom from the original script, the actresses here also take on a multitude of bit parts and walk-on roles, signifying to the audience that they’re still the sisters by subtly laughing as they leave the stage. It’s inspired and incredibly unsettling. Similarly eerie, their premonitions are made on typewriters that are then used by characters like King Duncan (played as a field marshal), which implies that they aren’t even predicting the future but manipulating people to make it happen. In my opinion, that’s a stroke of genius.

What’s more, the witches are dressed as working women, with boiler suits and headscarves worked into the costume of every bit character they play. I couldn’t help but notice a subtly radical comment going on: that the upper classes are so caught up in themselves that, with some cunning and subtlety, the working classes could bring them to their knees without them even noticing. Or am I reading too much into it? Either way, this is a production built on an inspired idea.

But is everything else as well thought out? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Indeed, the World War II setting doesn’t really stretch to anyone beyond the witches. Everyone looks the part (the costumes are, admittedly, fantastic), but otherwise the change of era doesn’t feel fully developed; the weapon of choice for every character is still a dagger, for example, something of an anachronism for the time it’s supposedly set.

And the acting, while uniformly good, is a mess of different styles. Most opt for a relatively natural approach, but Macbeth himself, Lady Macbeth, Macduff and Duncan are all rather hammed up. This could have worked as a motif, but with only some of the cast playing the game, it just seemed odd. Finally, even at an hour and a half, the play was obviously cut down, and the result felt slightly stilted at points.

In all, this is still worth watching for any Macbeth fan – if only for the genius use of the Weird Sisters. But for anyone not enamoured with the Bard’s work, this will not change your mind. Much as it truly hurts me to say it, the productions deconstructing Shakespeare win the day this year, despite this credible attempt to reconstruct his work.

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