Saturday, May 25

Macbeth (an undoing) – The Rose Theatre

She didn’t know what she was headed for, and when she found out what she was headed for, it was too late. Macbeths come undone. Playwright and director Zinnie Harris’s new and old work, Macbeth (an undoing) sets out to prove that what is done can in fact be undone rather than merely redone. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is arguably overdone, especially at the moment. From Ralph Fiennes to David Tennant, powerful male actors can’t take their grubby hands off it. Audiences too never seem to tire of it. It’s an enduring story, full of sound and fury, and rife with juicy monologues for actors to sink their fangs into. The juiciness of the plot even translates well into foreign adaptations and lubricates applications to very specific historical metaphors. However much of its adaptive appeal rests on what it reinforces rather than what it rebukes. A harsh critique of corrupting power and heedless ambition goes hand in bloody hand with tearing down the evil arm of womanly influence, often in the form of a sexual humiliation if not an overtly violent dressing down. In that respect this production is no different from its forefathers.

With extravagant costumes by Alex Berry and a sumptuous set from Tom Piper, the production “challenge(s)… the boundaries between the ghost worlds and the theatre mechanics (as they) begin to break down” but doesn’t make quite full use of the technically adept venue. A valiant effort is made at it, particularly in its lighting design but house entrances from a few cast members early in the play only hint at the possibility of immersion and the work up to a fourth wall shattering conclusion doesn’t ever fully breach. Ensconced by mirrored walls but raised above the level of the audience such that their caged reflections merely bounce around their playing space, this cast has their work cut out for them. Liz Kettle, as Carlin, an unbounded figure part worker, woman, witch, and wench, introduces the play and its themes to the audience but keeps its ultimate project a sly secret, even from the other performers. She is cunning and commanding and generates both shudders and laughs throughout her stage time. Freed from the constraints of faithfully representing an iconic character, she’s able to draw the audience into her fun in a way the rest of the cast never achieves the revelry of. The concoction Harris brews by combining new prose and Shakespearean text results in a watering down of the speeches that are usually so rich and a whiney replacement that although not entirely bland is not quite fiery enough to inspire. The script is clever and the performers competent but in refusing to choose a course between cruelty and kindness the spectacle winds up being merely grotesque.

The eventual finale is delivered more like a punchline than a great tragedy’s catharsis or a gory horror’s shuddering release. Violence doesn’t loom particularly large even in its most tense moments as it veers between awkwardly choreographed fighting and intimacy and violence so symbolic that that it distracts from the storytelling itself. The technical ambition of this production is perhaps its own downfall, with a tremendous set that fractures beautifully but also chaotically and seemingly unpredictably. In his first entrance Macbeth trips over a chair, a scene later the stage curtain knocks over a lamp, a necklace breaks mid-scene, and later a series of dresses get continuously besmirched as assistants and “assistant’s assistants” rush in to apathetically restore order or rather the lack thereof. Which of these gestures were intentionally theatrical and which were sloppy mistakes it becomes increasingly difficult to know as the story unravels.

Playing until 23rd March, https://www.rosetheatre.org/

Reviewer: Kira Daniels

Reviewed: 12th March 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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