27 March 1993
Is this a moral dilemma I see?
There are no witches. Red Shift's
director, Jonathan Holloway, does not beleive in them. He holds
that a modern audience finds it hard to swallow Macbeth chatting
around the cauldron. His production, paring the play of its prophecies
and spells, is a concentrated drama of politics and stress.
The possibility of the supernatural is still there in Ross Brown's
score. Thunderous drum rolls, ghostly chimes and the menacing
metallic rustle of cymbal brushes accompany moments of impending
evil. The audio tape, visibly spinning upstage, has the air of
an impersonal external power but the music could equally well
symbolise the Macbeths' inner experiences as they let morality
Holloway's other departure is in the characterisation of Duncan
and his son Malcolm, both played by Tim Shoesmith. The old King's
speeches to Macbeth and Banquo - all tenderness and gratitude
- are delivered into a microphone in a tone of unremitting sarcasm.
Perhaps this reading also stands as a 20th century re-adjustment
of the play, casting the unadulatory eye on royalty. The negative
portrayal of Duncan and Malcolm does spotlight Shakespeare's
hints of parallels between their regimes and Macbeth's. Yet it
flattens out the play's contrast between good and evil.
Still, textual cuts are skilfully engineered and multiple parts
neatly juggled by a cast of five. Shoesmith relies too much on
caricature to differentiate his roles but Malcolm Freeman moves
unaffectedly between Banquo, Macduff and Macduff's son. Alastair
Cording as Macbeth is unfortunately heavy-handed with iambic
metres and awkwardly stiff. Beatrice Comins's Lady Macbeth is
beautifully naturalistic by contrast.
The Macbeths' relationship is scrupulously charted. Intense face-to-face
sexual initimacy drifts step by step into estrangement and the
marital balance of power pivots precisely on the moment of the
murder. Though it might not always be subtle, Red Shift's Macbeth
has the virtue of clarity and its polemical cuts and counter-readings
valuably hurl this well-thumbed play back in the arena of reassessment.
Lyn Gardner on London's Alternatives
The Fringe is so often dismissed
as the poor relation of theatre that people come to believe it's
true. Because the commercial and main subsidized houses richer
they must be better. Rubbish. What the fringe lacks in money
it often makes up with in invention.
Just take the two productions of Macbeth which were playing
this month. Richard Eyre's production in the National Theatre's
Olivier theatre has all the advantages that money can buy: a
set that can conjure up castles courtesy of Bob Crowley, circles
of fire, moody lighting, specially composed music and Alan Howard
- a renowned Shakesperian actor - in the title role. Even so,
the production fails to spark and is as dusty and old-fashioned
as a 19th century revival of the play.
Three miles down the road at BAC, Jonathan Holloway's production
of the same play for Red Shift probably cost a tenth of the price
and makes the play a text for our times. It is revelatory. Holloway
strips away the supernatural elements of the play - including
the witches - and plays it as a contemporary tale of vaulting
ambition and corrupted morality. The cast numbers just five.
Of course purists will frown, but this is undoubtably the more
effective production of the two, the one that goes straight for
the jugular of the play and makes it relevant to modern audiences
while keeping structure and poetry intact.
These Macbeths are a couple on the make, intent on ousting the
old style leadership of Duncan and stage-managing a boardroom
coup - even if it entails ruthlessely spilling blood. They are
as cold-blooded as only men and women in suits can be (the production
costumes courtesy of Next), the walking, talking embodiment of
today's political cynics.
Geraldine Pilgrim provides a wooden set, part charnal house,
part boardroom and the pacey production is full of trypical Red
Shift touches - a text pared to the bone, brilliantly atmospheric
music and arresting visuals - Banquo's appearance at the banquet
is brilliantly and shockingly handled as a disembodied face,
its features distorted, is suddenly sighted beneath the tablecloth.
The acting is cool and collected with Beatrice Comins' rivetting
Lady Macbeth carrying off the acting honours. Sexy, scheming
and ultimately piteously mad, it is a performance to savour,
towering way above that of the actress cast in the same role
in the National's production.