It’s unusual to come out of a production of a Shakespearian tragedy after two hours (105 minutes playing time), even if the play in question is Macbeth, by a margin the shortest of the tragedies. However, Gareth Tudor Price, re-working his 2006 production, knows what he is doing, presenting a fast-moving atmospheric thriller rather than a political or psychological drama.
A surprising amount of the text survives, though characters disappear wholesale. The Witches are missing, though many of their lines remain; Donalbain is reduced to a passing reference; three Scots thanes and Macduff’s entire family end up on the cutting-room floor; the English contingent makes no appearance. Surprisingly the often tiresome English scene between Malcolm and Macduff survives in large part; even more surprisingly, well played by Frazer Hammill and Robert Hudson, it is highly effective. The murder of the Macduffs is cut totally and many scenes are severely reduced, the invading force led by Malcolm and Macduff represented by lines off.
The cast of seven spends all the production grouped around the simple in-the-round setting and the sense of immediacy is palpable. For instance, scenes where the Witches’ lines are passed around hunched off-stage figures with a mysterious soundscape from the PA are genuinely eerie. The menacing opening fanfare, with the sound reverberating through the audience seats, suggests an exciting evening.
However, it doesn’t quite happen, partly through the reliance on technology. Maybe there are too few scenes allowed to speak for themselves anyway, but, when the sound system emits creaking noises most of the time (as it did for the first half when I attended), it’s certainly distracting. The smoke effects are constant, sometimes highly effective, sometimes simply blurring vision and inducing coughs and runny eyes.
Gareth Tudor Price’s version of Shakespeare has much to recommend it, but again there are a few false notes. The similarity of the name Seyton to Satan affects his judgement and the servant who appears only in Shakespeare’s Act 5 takes on such familiar chores as other servant roles and the Third Murderer, but is more problematically matched with the Porter (deliberately unfunny) and the Doctor – and his satanic posturing over the dead Banquo (with a line borrowed from the Witches an act later) is an unfortunate way to finish the first half. However, Michael Onslow’s stilly menacing performance (he is also a refreshingly robust Duncan) is excellent.
In this production characterisation is at a premium, but the ensemble of five (Karl Haynes and Fidel Nanton the other two) offers precise and dedicated support to the two Macbeths. Fiona Wass’s calculating Lady Macbeth inspires James Weaver after some anonymous early scenes, and he is at his best as Macbeth unravels, his wild-eyed tyrant disintegrating all too convincingly.
Graham Kirk’s lighting is atmospheric, consistently gloomy, but I could find nothing to like in Foxton’s anonymous long coats and boots costumes. Price’s direction achieves pace and momentum without rushing, but the performance remains frustrating in its near-achievement.