2008: Macbeth

William Shakespeare, translated by Stanisław Barańczak, directed and adapted by Grzegorz Jarzyna

TR Warszawa

Lowland Hall

From 11 August 2012 to 18 August 2012

Rating: **

Review by Philip Fisher

Shakespeare writes so well that anyone trying to improve on the original is at risk of falling way short.

Grzegorz Jarzyna and his TR Warsawa company have become Festival regulars after visits with radical reworkings of TEOREMAT and 4:48 Psychosis.

His 2012 offering takes on Shakespeare in an oversized set on three levels at the big exhibition hall near to Edinburgh Airport.

The big breezeblock confection built for designers Stephanie Nelson and Agnieszka Zawadowska could only be constructed in such a space. It splits into different areas and suffers from shallow, hard seating that leaves everyone a long way off and makes viewing the bottom playing level even from Row F a problem. Microphones and projections on to a side wall help, along with midtitles cleverly placed between the bottom two storeys.

The thesis is that Macbeth’s experience could have taken place in a war-torn state with a Muslim community today. Whether this is in central Europe or further afield is unclear (though the publicity material suggests the Middle East) but the internal destructiveness of the battle is terrifying.

The production has taken four years to reach Edinburgh but this new vision of Macbeth still feels very raw, almost throughout its 1¾ hours. At times, you wonder whether Jarzyna is just being far too clever for his viewers.

Inter alia, as well as Hecate representing three witches from the safety of a burqa, there are a white rabbit, Yankee Doodle and a bald, pink-dressed androgynously female doctor. It might be easy for some to conclude that, like them but not bare Banquo, this emperor is wearing very flashy new clothes.

Cezary Kosinski is a yomping kind of military commander most at home in fatigues, who will shoot a man for fun. This cold fish, having taken over command of Cawdor Sector (sic) would have no qualms about killing his King to take office. 

With his war record, it therefore comes as a surprise that he would ever suffer from a guilty conscience, more plausible is the fear that the next usurper will be along before too long to take over in another bloody coup.

It might be significant that Aleksandra Konieczna’s tarty Lady Macbeth has the look of a Muslim. This could drive her own ambitions and affect the treatment of her western husband but then again…

Whatever the reservations about the liberties taken with the story, the staging is at times spectacular, never more so than in the battle scenes, which are frighteningly realistic. Indeed, a final explosion threatens to singe the eyebrows of anyone with clear sight lines.

EIF is to be congratulated on its thirst for exciting new work but on this occasion, the adventure has resulted in a version of Macbeth that neither improves on the original nor says anything to the average viewer about today’s world that is both fresh and coherent.