If ‘contemporary’ means the absence of any set to speak of, performers clad in casual attire and a soundtrack of experimental ‘noises’ then this production may indeed resonate.
All well and good, but just occasionally the heart yearns for the site of a good old ruff, the type that screams Elizabethan; sometimes only a glimpse of codpiece can slake the thirst.
Don’t get me wrong, I like t-shirts, jogging bottoms and trainers as much as the next person, but now and again I’d like to actually see costumes or at least some hint of stylisation out there on the stage, even if the venue in question is an uber cool, contemporary space such as Liverpool’s Everyman theatre.
Oh what the hell, so what’s wrong with a costume now and again? There I said it. Call me an old fuddy-duddy, but a ruff here, a codpiece there always helps to transport the theatre-goer to otherworld in a way that shabby chic never can.
At times, the casual dress together with lack of set does feel like an Actor’s Masterclass. You’re expecting Pru Scales or Lee Strasberg to pop up at any moment to convene an acting ‘time-out.’
And that’s the odd thing. Although the production – in spirit - wishes to break conventions, it’s actually a fairly conservative production, at least in terms of performances. This is textbook stuff: Highly competent, highly polished and highly professional and, dare I say, highly thespy.
Poppy Miller’s Lady Macbeth is right on the money. Ferdy Roberts is a raging, red-faced Macbeth - Sitting Bull, on a very bad face day. You just wish the director had really pushed the limits here. If it’s textbook performances you want, the BBC Shakespeare is where you turn.
But here, in this space, one yearned for something truly different. You wanted it to break moulds, to put its fingers up to the Scales and Strasbergs of this world. Oh well a boy can wish.
It may have seemed like the height of pedantry to open up with a costume-related comment, but the lack of stylisation in this production seems indicative of a wider issue: An artistic vision which is embryonic rather than full realised.
The writing was written all over the Everyman’s commodious walls. This was going to be Macbeth, but not as you know it. That, one assumes, was the plan. And a noble one too. But when does high concept become plain random? Now Wotsits crisps certainly have a place in the world, but I’m not sure it’s in a production of Macbeth.
A small collection of synthesisers and drum machines form a sort of barricade, an electronic enclave in the centre of the performance space. The performers holed themselves up amid their weapons of choice: Synthesisers. It was Old Grey Whistle Test. Interesting yes, arresting, not quite.
With synthesisers a-plenty, this version of Macbeth is certainly full of sound. There are creaks, screeches, bongs, bungs, sizzles, plops and more. It’s a bit like a Sonic Youth studio session.
It only truly starts to get interesting the moment When Paul Woodson (Malcolm) walks out into mid-stage reading a summary of Lady Macbeth’s character from Brodie’s notes. Please Sir, more!
Overall, it’s certainly a bold production and full marks for giving it a go. If it’s intensity, classic acting and a touch of the avant-garde you dig, this production will send you home satisfied.
If, however, it’s a genuine reworking (avec costumes) that floats your boat, a production that deconstructs, then reconstructs, you may leave the theatre with that all-too familiar, sinking Shakespearean feeling.
This review also appears on The British Theatre Guide