Some people, perhaps new to Shakespeare, may have some questions upon leaving the theatre after a performance of Macbeth. However, they are unlikely to be ‘Why is Duncan eating Skips?’, ‘Where did those funky beats come from?’ and ‘Why is Macbeth snogging Banquo?’ However, the recent Filter production at the Citizen’s Theatre did indeed raise all of these questions in the brief, baffling, 70 minute performance.
There was no curtain opening to signal the beginning of the performance, merely a weird ‘bloop’ kind of noise coming from the collection of junk gathered on three tables on the stage. They might have resembled 80s recording equipment but for the antennae being manipulated by one actress to create something resembling sonar. My initial confusion turned to horror as the actors opened with a terrible, terrible pun on “hubble, bubble, toil and trouble” involving takeaway coffee. I was determined to give it a chance despite this.
As the actors not present in the scene lurked in view wearing their jeans and tshirts, the standard costume for all, I tried my hardest to ignore them and concentrate on the scene at hand. Unfortunately the scene at hand was that of Macbeth travelling home after his encounter with the witches, represented by him walking round and round Lady Macbeth as she soliloquises, which was moderately distracting to say the least. As they feasted Duncan, king of Scotland, on Skips and cans of Coke, Lady Macbeth drew large circles and misspelled ‘kidneys’ on Duncan’s torso, as he resolutely ignored her. Whilst both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s speeches were well-delivered and accurate, the utterly baffling events going on around them created an air of watching a nursery play-time accidentally invade the Royal Shakespeare Company. However, their seemingly arbitrary use of synthesiser noises was actually to put to good effect when it came to the end of Lady Macbeth’s classic speech about killing Duncan. Moving straight into the ‘dagger’ speech, the noises were haunting and atmospheric, and lent the performance a weight that might not otherwise have been achieved.
Before falling back into absolutely inappropriate funky beats.
There is an amusing scene slightly later when Duncan comes on stage after his notes, reading the related section of Brodie’s notes, but this is then undermined by the complete lack of clarity as to who is playing who. Billed by the company as an easy introduction for beginner’s to Shakespeare, this is blatantly untrue, as actors play multiple characters, who they occasionally present in the same scenes, and this combined with a lack of costume means each actor has no distinct character identity. The characters are further blurred by Banquo being acted by a female, which in itself is no problem, but who then winds up kissing Macbeth fairly passionately, which is not explained not ever alluded to again.
From there it degenerates yet again, from the ridiculous to the abysmal. Lady Macbeth makes up party bags for the guests at a feast, who then play hide and seek. There are still a few genuinely emotive parts of the performance, such as Macbeth liberally covering his face and arms with blood after the murder of Duncan, and not removing it for the duration of performance, Lady Macbeth’s ‘damned spot’ speech which is truly chilling, and the end, where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth sit side by side on the stage, dazed, after both are dead, which is strangely haunting.
The overwhelming problem with this piece of experimental theatre is that the actors appeared to base their performance around a few key elements differing from traditional productions; the lack of costume, the strange dubstep-inspired soundtrack, the utterly bizarre feast scenes and some key visual pieces. Unfortunately, these gimmicks run out of mileage within the first five minutes, and the confusion of characterisation and useless portions that make up no part of the original text make this performance one of the weakest and most confusing modern interpretations of an unapologetically brilliant play. The fact that they had the ability to memorise and perform large chunks of the original text only makes the fact that they chose to manipulate such an interesting and unique play into something so incoherent, even more painful and bemusing, in keeping with the overall atmosphere of the production.