Macbeth is perhaps the first production that comes to mind when someone mentions “theatre”. Even those unfamiliar with the play have some knowledge of its characters, famous quotes or the infamous curse surrounding “the Scottish play”. Drenched in regicide, guilt and fate, it will forever remain one of humanity’s darker reaches into our obsession with glory. However, it is the Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group‘s attempt to bring something new to Macbeth‘s foulest figures that causes their production to miss the “damned” spot.
Deciphering any of Shakespeare’s plays for a present-day audience isn’t an easy task, and both EGTG and Naomi Wallis-Ryder’s work here should be applauded. It’s a comprehensive, by-the-book (mostly) interpretation, with Macbeth and the surrounding forces dressed in modern military garb. An ominous throne sits upon a shadowed stage. The looming stone pillars of the Assembly Roxy frame it in awe. Three wyrd sisters, slouched on the ground – also blocked by poor staging – inform us of the narrative that will unfold. Supernatural fate dictates that, despite his (perceived) freedom of thought, Macbeth will rise to become King of the Scots.
Despite the inspiring setting, though, this production lacks flame. Disengaged with the language, performers deliver literature’s most exquisite addresses without depth, and Shakespeare’s enchanting verses can get lost in a sometimes box-ticking production. Cast members awaiting their lines distractingly fidget or twitch; their reactions to others feel stilted or are non-existent.
Waifish, feeble and powerless are adjectives not to be associated with Lady Macbeth. Regrettably, in a valiant attempt to re-interpret the character – not as the anti-mother or antagonist, but as guilt-ridden Queen – Naomi Wallis-Ryder’s directing strips Lady Macbeth of reverence. Nothing about this Lady Macbeth communicates distress, deviousness or even a desire to see her husband succeed. Rhiannon King’s Lady Macbeth isn’t poorly performed; she manages to partially convey Wallis-Ryder’s goal. Sadly, it is the direction that lets her down.
As with all things though, glints of light radiate in the shadows. Despite a misstep in Lady Macbeth’s direction, King Duncan (Brian Thomson) alongside Macbeth (Jacques Kerr) convey the non-verbal communications between the two well. Here we see the chemistry the two do indeed have. They work well as a loving couple, clasping bloodstained hands. Thomson, followed by Alastair Lawless (playing Banquo), deliver enjoyable performances with a regal stature. Lawless gives Banquo an earthier human element – an assessment that cannot be extended to all.
Though the agony is scarce to be seen in Macbeth’s eyes following his abhorrent deeds, the second half erupts with lashings of madness. As Kerr advances from grief-stricken usurper into mad king, his performance becomes more engaging. James Sullivan’s Malcolm, though guilty of over-gesturing, delivers a unique version of the character, standing out amidst the cast.
The infamous “Scottish play” is a pillar of the theatrical world. Beating in its breast are concerns of fate, gender and the folly of ambition. Despite its notoriety, it is by no means an easy production to create. EGTG encapsulate the starting steps to engage an audience with Shakespeare.