The “Scottish Play” is among Shakespeare’s shortest, but for critically acclaimed theatre company Filter to edit it down to barely more than 90 minutes, without missing any significant narrative points, is certainly impressive. The result, though, at times feels too stripped back –certainly when compared with the company’s overtly chaotic, pass-a-pizza-around-the-audience take on Twelfth Night last year. With its lack of set and cast in casual clothes, its Radiophonic Workshop-esque musical soundscape by Tom Haines (suggesting both the Witches dank weirdness and, on occasions, the characters’internal torments), this production can comes across as a rather severe, experimental radio production rather than a stage performance.
Yet there are certainly some overtly visual theatrical touches: during her first encounter with the doomed King Duncan, for instance, Poppy Miller’s Lady Macbeth is instantly pulling off his sweatshirt to draw hearts and crosses on his torso with a red marker pen.
Yet there are certainly some overtly visual theatrical touches: during her first encounter with the doomed King Duncan, for instance, Poppy Miller’s Lady Macbeth is instantly pulling off his sweatshirt to draw hearts and crosses on his torso with a red marker pen. After Macbeth “has murdered sleep”, he washes blood onto his face rather than off, leaving him marked for the rest of the play. He plays blind man’s buff at the post-Coronation “feast”, for which Lady Macbeth prepares a sufficient number of party goody bags, each including a can of Coke and a packet of Cheesy Wotsits. All good fun, but it’s not entirely clear what the overall intent behind such flourishes actually is.
Miller and Ferdy Roberts, as a scruffy, jean-wearing Macbeth, are the strong core of the performers, adept at taking Shakespeare’s verse and making it come across as dialogue –no mean feat in a play which has given the English language so many common expressions. Roberts comes across as a seasoned, but weary Macbeth, although he seems genuinely startled when given an unusual premonition of the future courtesy of another cast member reading from a dog-eared copy of Brodie's Notes on the play.
There are certainly effective moments; there’s real emotional impact behind the simple act of switching off a baby monitor, for example. Yet, Filter’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s Macbeth singularly fails to provide a believable psychological explanation for Lady Macbeth’s all-too-sudden descent into madness (admittedly, a fundamental flaw with the play), while the final confrontation between Macbeth and a revenge-fuelled Macduff lacks any emotional clout. (Battles, even off-stage ones, are hard to accept when there isn’t a weapon in sight.)
Overall, this is an interesting take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but it’s far from being an entirely successful one.