The Times

27 March 1993

Is this a moral dilemma I see?

BAC, Battersea

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 slip.
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.

Kate Bassett


Plays International

May 1993

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.