Fire Burn: The Tragedy of Macbeth

ImmerCity’s stripped back and stylised telling of the ever popular Scottish play is an at times disorienting, nightmarish and incredibly compelling piece of theatre that will give you shivers as you leave the auditorium. Using only three actors, minimal props and costumes, and an almost empty set, the company craft the tale of Macbeth, the titular soldier whose own ambition drives him to horrible acts of greed and bloodlust.

A wonderfully engaging and striking take on the classic tale.

Shakespeare’s dark tragedy is certainly a well-worn one at this point, particularly at this year’s festival, where there are at least five other versions of the show performing. There is also always the risk that a particular production will come off as formulaic or by the numbers. ImmerCity avoid these potential problems by paring back the fluff and pomp the play has acquired over the years and focusing on the brutal and raw emotional core of the text that makes it so compelling.

This is achieved firstly through the incredible performances of the three actors. Each play a variety of the play’s colourful characters, imbuing each of them with distinctive personalities and attributes which make them incredibly easy to tell apart. They also have a clear and confident grasp of the text and are able to draw out the nuance and meaning of the Bard’s words beautifully, and never are we given the impression that they are simply reciting poetry from memory, as can often happen when performing Shakespeare.

Secondly, the design of the show is wonderfully inventive, invoking a primal, almost tribal aesthetic, that gives the whole production the feel of a nightmarish cave painting. The actors use face paint to create markings and symbols which demarcate the characters from one another. Additionally, all swords are replaced with crooked pieces of wood. Lighting and sound complete the effect, fading in eerie music whilst the stage is washed in blood reds and ice blues.

The play sometimes struggles to keep up with its own intensity, and by the end you feel the show’s one-hour-twenty running time. The three performers do an admirable job but maintaining a Shakespearean tragedy’s worth of energy by themselves for a long, uninterrupted period is difficult and at times overcomes the cast. In addition, the music occasionally becomes more of a hindrance to the performance, distracting us from the action on stage or jarring the audience when it cuts out abruptly in the middle of the scene. Despite this, the show always swings back and ends on a triumphant and disturbing high note.

Fire Burn is a wonderfully engaging and striking take on the classic tale. I would recommend all fans of Shakespeare swing by the Space on the Mile to see this striking performance. 

Reviews by Joseph McAulay

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The Blurb

Three sisters meet to enact Macbeth’s fate. Their twisted prophecies transform him from a war hero into a paranoid tyrant in this brutal Shakespearean tragedy. Fire Burn is Macbeth stripped down and retold by the three sisters. The scale and spectacle of Shakespeare’s original is reduced to a series of iconic visuals and intimate encounters: the man with bloody hands, the woman who sleepwalks, the ghost of a betrayed friend. The witches' performance evokes a living nightmare as characters materialise in the darkness to the beat of Hecate's drums. ‘Ingeniously conjured’ **** (Stage).