Macbeth at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
Far from being a mere tale full of sound and fury, Jude Kelly's production of Shakespeare's political thriller has another major ingredient - water. Loads of the stuff, courtesy of water sculptor Mario Borza. Without doubt, Borza's staggering designs, which send water from ceiling to floor in the most aesthetically stunning way and leave the characters dripping in more than blood, create a misty, mysterious and eerie atmosphere. It's an effect that leaves the audience in awe, signifying all that's associated with the wet stuff, and it would be easy to devote this entire review to the workings of pumps, fittings and spraying systems. But, in the event of a hose-pipe ban, what would we have left?
In all honesty, this is a rather schizophrenic production, flitting from moments of intensity to oddly laughable segments. The costume is a contemporary rag bag, the reasoning of some of which is difficult to comprehend. We have murderers in shell suit bottoms, baseball caps and thrift shop jumpers, Malcolm (Ken Bradshaw) resembling an SS officer by the close, and weird sisters looking like they've stepped out of a Monty Python sketch - though none of this is as baffling as a moment when the entire cast appears in 70s wide-collared, kipper tie outfits.
Through the downpour, the cast do manage to keep their heads above water. Patrick O'Kane's Macbeth may be a trifle camp for my liking but his soliloquies are potent, Mairead McKinley (Lady Macbeth) likewise wrenches at the heartstrings and Eamonn Clarke also impresses with an incredibly touching portrayal of Donalbain. Luke Williams (Banquo), Nigel Betts (Macduff) and Ken Bradshaw all leave their mighty marks. You get lulled into thinking how great the performances are during, for instance, a wonderful sleep walking scene, but the pathos is wrecked by a frogman emerging from the stage side water feature, or Banquo's farcical reappearance during the banquet.
Director Kelly is obviously after intimacy and the thrust stage gives that at times, but mostly, the water and the odd configuration of the performance space places a barrier between the play and its audience. But then there is Mic Pool's sound, which is an exhilarating blend of aircraft, missiles, radio broadcasts and gunfire, Tanya Burns' overwhelming seizure inducing lighting, John Waller's nifty fights. And did I mention Mario Borza's water sculpture?
A Macbeth with a personality disorder is the end result. There is plenty to be amazed at but this production neither sinks or swims, it just splashes about in the shallow end.