MacBeth in Scots

Brimming with murder, misery, and more murder, Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s darkest and shortest plays. It’s like a blunt, bloody dagger that continues to haunt. Edinburgh Theatre Arts’ re-imagining of the play gives new meaning to the name, ‘The Scottish Play.’ Robin Lorimer’s translation of Macbeth into Scots in 1992 is long overdue for being transferred onto the stage and Edinburgh Theatre Arts have done well to present such an impressive version of the play.

The glossary in the program titled ‘Whit’s he sayin?’ didn’t fill me with much hope. Initially, the language is alienating and foreign to the extent that it’s near impossible to keep up. Then again, Shakespeare’s language isn’t exactly easy either. Even for a native Scot, it takes a while to get into. When you accept that you’re unlikely to know what every ‘feckfu’, ‘bityach’ and ‘hecht’ mean, it becomes easier to enjoy the play. It sounds glorious; the sound of the words alone creates an impression of sense. The cadences of the Scots language give the words a rough, visceral quality, as if they’re being wrenched from the very heart of the actors. Why does a play involving so much murder sound better in Scots? I don’t know, but it does.

Lorimer’s script is the main feature of this production. Other than this, it’s a rather conventional version of Macbeth. The unsubtle change into red costumes in the second half was predictable and the scene changes were a bit clumsy. However, had there been too many attempts at innovation it may have detracted from the script itself and made things even more confusing. There’s plenty to concentrate on with the words alone and the stark, austere set allows the acting to take centre stage.

There are some accomplished performances here too. The cast deliver their lines fluently and savour each word, giving it an emphasis that is quite intense. Whilst there is some shaky acting in minor parts, the leads are undoubtedly strong. Edith Peers, in particular, makes a convincingly nutty Lady Macbeth, especially towards the end as she steps further into madness. Danny Farrimond also makes a bold and commanding Macbeth, giving a raw performance.

The janitor at hell-gate can always be relied on to add a touch of humour into the bloodbath of the play. Colin McPherson is excellent at the role and it seems even funnier because he’s wearing workman’s clothes and chugging back a bottle of beer. This is a nice touch, as are the two murderers dressed in hoodies and dark glasses.

This is not accessible Shakespeare: it’s hard work and, at two and a half hours long, quite tiring to watch. It’s worth the effort though because there’s a raw passion bubbling up underneath the words that adds a new, refreshing energy to the play. For all its flaws, this is a triumph for the Scots language and it’s certainly one of the bravest takes on Macbeth I’ve seen in long a while.

The Blurb

Robin Lorimer’s powerful translation into Scots brings to vibrant life Shakespeare’s bloody tale of ambition, treachery and downfall. The rich Scots tongue gives fresh energy to this RSC Open Stages production. The Scottish Play is coming home!