Filter Theatre return to the Citizens with an ingenious retelling of Macbeth that, while never dull, occasionally becomes too preoccupied with its own cleverness to land the full emotional body-blow of Shakespeare’s brutal Scots tragedy.
Despite copious cutting, Filter have left the plot of Macbeth largely intact, telling the tale of the ambitious Thane of Cawdor who, aided by three wayward witches and his bloodthirsty wife, murders his King and takes the Scottish crown for his own.
At the epicentre of Filter’s imaginative production is the play’s preoccupation with intrigue and paranoia: the ‘heat-oppressed brain’. On-stage, the main source of this is an arrangement of custom-made musical instruments that are manipulated by the cast throughout to create a roiling soundtrack bustling with ghosts and hallucinations, radio transmissions half-heard and prophecies twisted. This solid wall of acoustic intrigue becomes an engrossing replacement for the total lack of set and costuming.
Elsewhere, the company’s trademark inventiveness and tongue-in-cheek humour cascades through every moment. Macduff’s children find themselves represented by a suddenly-silenced baby monitor, Macbeth’s acquiescence to ‘playing the host’ gets a radical new interpretation, and the unforgettable introduction of the three witches ensures the show opens with a belly laugh.
However, while always entertaining, the cleverness of these set-pieces threatens to overwhelm the clarity of the plot and, even more frequently, the dialogue, exposing a cast that seems more at home behind their instruments than centre-stage. While Ferdy Roberts plays his embattled king with convincing tightly-coiled tension, Poppy Miller‘s Lady Macbeth seems oddly disaffected as she incites her husband to murder. The result is a production that is more intellectual than emotional – disappointing in a story driven so relentlessly by the darkest of human passions.
Filter have created a cheekily imaginative retelling that turns a familiar tale into something fresh and exciting. However, the technical brilliance and imaginative storytelling don’t quite mask performances lacking in the emotional intensity needed to play Shakespeare’s most bloodthirsty royals.