Macbeth / Partners of Greatness

William Shakespeare
The Faction
Northcott Theatre, Exeter

Christopher Yorke as Macbeth and Sophie Spreadbury as Belladonna Credit: Tony Bartholomew

Innovative and award-winning, The Faction distils Shakespeare’s Scottish play to a dark and intense biopic of the changing relationship of its leading couple.

Wordy and somewhat static, the partners fill their empty lives with ambition and dissembling.

Sophie Spreadbury as Lady Macbeth is less unsexed strident and manipulative bitch than often seen, but Christopher York’s Macbeth is somewhat weak, begging the question of just who is the driving force here. The pair, said by director Mark Leipacher to be “bound by an unspeakable loss”, seems caught up in a moment, with fear and joy, sheer terror and madness following fast on the heels of mounting the throne.

An empty cot represents the unfulfilled lives of the duo, teddy bears are those that threaten the partnership’s tenuous hold on the crown and/or the body count it takes to remain in power while courtiers and bodyguards are wine bottles, and red feathers, spilled blood.

Clumsily pedestrian imagery breaks the spell here and there with Banquo’s ghost a laughable, walking, life-sized bear, Duncan is a sumptuous golden cushion and the Wyrd Sisters are channelled by Spreadbury in a rictus of contortions.

Zeynep Kepekli’s lighting and backdrop projections—Burnham Wood on the march, BBC’s breaking news and raven silhouetted against the moon, helpful chapter cues (Dagger of the Mind, The Deed etc)—add atmosphere and clarity while Sophia Simensky’s sparse set features much empty blackness, G-plan chair and lamp, camp bed, cot, telephone, bathtub and royal bed.

Costuming is all. With Macbeth in camo, hefting a machine gun from the outset, his macho persona is swapped for a baggy tartan suit concealing a rather effeminate transparent and embroidered shirt to greet the incoming royal visitors. Stripped for action, he stabs a pleated pillow to death, eviscerates a teddy bear and orders the massacre of the McDuff household. The usurper hides his fears beneath an ornate, heavily brocaded outfit donning disguises and stripping bare as emotions roil and the inevitable tide of fate swamps him.

Lady Macbeth too dresses the part. In silk PJs, her emotions are on show as a bored wife, little interested in her husband’s gun-wielding but goaded into action—and a plaid overlarge suit—to literally wear the trousers seemingly plotting the death and birth of a king. From camisole to layer after layer of corseting, farthingale, heavy velvet and beaded skirt and puffed sleeved, fur-lined jacket, the many facets of personality are hidden and exposed, baring emotion and eventually revealing insanity.

The more they wear, the less in touch with others they become until alone and then separated.

This reimagining, although with much to admire, challenges much of the original tensions and, for me, is just too claustrophobic and lacks tragedy as we just don’t understand enough about this pair to engage or care.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell

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