The weather’s been good for an outdoor performance. So, that’s something. Other than that there is really not much reason to see Teatr Biuro Podrozy’s Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man?, a soulless, blatant, cursory pantomime of Shakespeare’s classic, told with all the grace and subtlety of a Hollywood blockbuster. The design is overbearing and often nonsensical – there is a general WWII feel, but at one point some performers lumber in with sports smudges under their eyes and a vaguely medieval headdress – relying entirely on pyrotechnics and welded contraptions without addressing their actual playing space in any way other than it being a large, open-air location. The show could easily have been set in a football stadium or opera house and achieved the same results. But perhaps the audience would have been more comfortable.
The basic plot points of Macbeth are touched on in a Spark Notes kind of way, but there is no exploration of character or psychology. Shakespeare’s genius isn’t in his plots – after all, he stole most of those from folk stories and other literature of his day – but in the poetry of the language and the depth of the characterisations. Without consideration for this, and with its melodramatic score, Teatr Biuro Podrozy’s production feels like watching an action flick, or a group of circus performers who got tipsy one night and decided to skip through Macbeth on a dare. But don’t get your hopes up; there’s no circus in the show. The witches generally cavort about in a giddy, childlike way swinging wooden noisemakers that sound ridiculous rather than ominous, embodying no sense of magic or the paranormal other than being on stilts, and instead coming across as irritating tricksters who, on a lark, decided to mess with some guy. Mackers and Lady M have a groping, context-less sexuality during the two moments when they actually share the stage and the fact that they are even married is barely understood.
Clearly the goal of the production is not to explore the meaning of the great classic, but to make a fiery spectacle full of yelling and pop guns. But the ‘spectacle’ of the show isn’t very, well, spectacular. The physicality of the performers is shaky, at times even sloppy, and I was genuinely concerned for their safety as they flung themselves at their unstable scenery. The staging is simple, mostly actors running about accompanied by blasting music, and the physical action is silly. There is an atrocious stage combat moment when two performers bang torches on the floor a meter away from Banquo in order to ‘kill’ him. The assault lands too far away to seem actually threatening to the character and too close to create a poetic sense of violence. In the end it feels like ill-considered direction and cowardly choreography.
There is one creative and engaging aspect to the production, which is the emphasis on Fleance who reads as a kind of surrogate nephew to Macbeth and the only drop of mystery in the show. Riding in periodically on a vintage bicycle, his character is a symbol of innocence, and unspoilt potential. Given his roughly 1920s look, I found myself wondering if he might also be Macbeth’s younger-self, an expression of the General’s lost purity. It’s an imaginative touch and one that the production badly needs. Other interesting thingsinclude: ‘40s era motorcycles; some interesting (if rickety) set-contraptions; and a nice, flaming closing image. If you’re not sure if stilts are cool or if you like to watch things burn, check it out. If you already know whether you like these things, skip it and try to catch one of the other eight productions of the Scottish play playing the Fringe this summer. Maybe one of them will have something new to offer.