The Macbeths

William Shakespeare, Alexander Raptotasios and Manolis Tsipos

Ferodo Bridges CIC

Pleasance Theatre, Islington (Stage Space)

From 18 April 2017 to 30 April 2017

Review by Howard Loxton

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The Macbeths (note the plural) takes the form of a dinner party at which the audience are all guests.

It is fairly intimate, there is only room for 25 of them, sitting at benches on the far side of long tables along the sides of the room and at one end with the high table where Macbeth and his lady entertain King Duncan set at the other. Behind it, between some white tiling, hanging strips of plastic curtain off a back room. It looks like the way into a meat store or an abattoir, but the elegant hostess and smooth black tables counter that with their smart sophistication.

Claire Ganaye, as an elegant Lady Macbeth, welcomes each arrival and offers wine to everyone. When all are served, Macbeth rushes in with the news that Duncan will be coming to dinner and projected on the plastic hangings is the prediction the witches have give him of his elevation and eventual kingship.

Him? Macbeth is played by Helena Antoniou: is this gender-blind casting or are these Macbeths a lesbian couple? Since Oya Bacak as Banquo is clearly identified as being female, I presume the former in another welcome instance of giving women the opportunity to play more of Shakespeare’s great roles.

This, however, is only partly Shakespeare. Director Alexander Rapotasios and co-writer Manolis Tsipos have filleted and rearranged Shakespeare’s text, added speeches of their own and added a selection of songs for the characters to express themselves karaoke fashion. Most of the plot is still there and at least parts of the big soliloquies (often delivered at the microphone to separates them from conversational dialogue and dinner table gossip).

Intriguingly, this gives much greater prominence to some lesser characters: for instance the “bloody sergeant’s” report of the battle that Macbeth has just won for Duncan is delivered to the King in several chunks during dinner where the conversation leads off discussing vaping and some scatological joking.

Prince Malcolm, a bit worse for wear, is packed off to bed but the party goes on. Daniel Jacob’s gluttonous King Duncan, wearing green eye shadow and a big pendant earing, stays on and, having snorted too much cocaine, when Banquo won’t do a number he enthusiastically sings “Don’t You Forget About Me” before he sinks to the floor.

The Macbeths’ plotting is now made easier. “No dagger, put it down!” is the royal instruction before he slumps over the table. Malcolm returns, spieling some of the porter’s comic patter, but he and the others ignore the King: they must be used to him passing out. “I’m the perfect corpse,” he remarks to the audience, “if you ignore the fact that I’m still breathing.” Meanwhile Lady Macbeth slices red watermelon flesh with a knife.

Dead Duncan removes himself to sit alongside the audience where the ghost of Banquo will join him and, the company having run out of actors, they help out by playing some later scenes.

I‘ve seen too many Macbeths to guess how this works for those new to the play but it certainly produces surprises and has some intriguing invention such as Lady Macbeth’s suicidal sleepwalk. It may be Shakespeare’s shortest play and heavily cut but when performed without an interval some of its interventions go on too long.

Is there any real purpose behind this treatment? It seems trying merely to puncture the supposed pomposity of a classic. If some contemporary satire is intended, it needs clarification. The interrogation of Banquo’s ghost as a foreign immigrant may raise an important issue but like much else it’s an arbitrary addition.

Amongst the rather self-conscious iconoclasm, what’s left of the big speeches gets good delivery. The emphasis on reporting battle at the opening may be intended to establish a violent contemporary world where ruthless savagery is commonplace and the abattoir image does turn out to be intentional but this exercise in both comic and gory forms of grand guignol is too self-indulgent. It made me want to see these actors play it straight.