Director Matt Dann writes that his production of Macbeth is ‘informed, not by an imposed concept, but by the texture of the text itself: lean, taut, bristling with muscular tension’. He is perhaps right to be wary of ‘concept’ Shakespeare but this stripped-down production lacks the focus on Shakespeare’s language necessary to underwrite its lack of conceptual framework.
Dann is aware that under the strain of making Shakespeare work within a concept his language can be neglected. Too often the Bard’s most beautiful words are reduced to tee-tum iambics, or simply mumbled into the wings. Dann and his company avoid these mistakes but without making it clear the focus of the production is on the text itself. Without a concept hanging in the background taking up all of a director’s thinking-space, there could be more attention directed towards bringing Shakespeare’s words alive in a way appropriate to their craft. This lack of attention is most noticeable during the soliloquies; whilst they are all engaging, they rarely allow Shakespeare’s most bewitching language to sparkle.
Yet this direct and competent production does have its moments of success. The final witches’ scene is a highlight: a pleasingly simple idea yet graphic and disturbing. Modern but generic military attire suggests that Dann wants us to consider the permanence of these tragic conflicts without associating them with any particular political concern. This does something towards evincing the ‘tautness’ for which he is searching.
Dann’s cast is also a good one. Thomas McNulty’s Macbeth is impressive for its effortless, understated intensity. The witches are chilling without being caricatures; Beth Greenwood is particularly memorable for her subtle and terrifying rage.
With many other versions of the Scottish play happening this month, it becomes necessary to ask: why this one over any other? A simple answer is that it isn’t dreadful, as so many are. But beyond that, it doesn’t contain enough sound or fury to make it notable. Without a ‘concept’ it must be Shakespeare’s words that become the centre of a production; without either, even a text like Macbeth can feel hollow.