A Macbeth that features only the eponymous hero and his wife is an opportunity to define the characters and chart the shifting balance of power between them as the tragedy unfolds. This production by The Faction, at Wilton’s Music Hall, however struggles to lift the the text from the hacked pages and seems to lack clear intent.
Not without successful precedent but here the vision and skill to pull it off is seriously lacking
The production makes use of the full stage and lower level apron. It’s a big space for two actors, that serves to keep them separated when performing at the same time in different locations, but also frustrates their intimacy and denies a sense of claustrophobic entanglement in a plan that grows increasingly awry. The physicality of perfromance associated the company is also missing, except for the opening of Act II, where it comes as something of a surprising change of style that then seems out of place.
Two well-matched actors with considerable chemistry between them might make this situation work, but Sophie Spreadbury and Christopher York lack that and director Mark Leipacher seems to have given them free reign in developing separate roles rather than forging a tightly bonded reciprocal relationship. Despite the text and the settings York just doesn’t seem to establish his credibility in the role as a soldier and a man desperate for power who is capable of committing atrocities; a situation that leaves him with little by way of contrast for when Macbeth's agonising self-doubt and demise set in. Spreadbury fares slightly better and seems more focussed on the mission and the fulfilment of Bellona’s ambition. (Yes, Lady Macbeth has this alternative name; - as if her character needs to be reinforced as a Roman goddess of war!) Having established her earlier strength she is able to contrast the Lady’s descent into madness and suicide.
There’s more that just doesn’t hit the mark in this production. Costuming lacks coherence. The opening war scenes have Macbeth in modern desert combat gear, complete with what is possibly a replica AK47. Lady Macbeth is casually attired at home as she receives letters from the front. Later they dress up in tartan suits to greet their guests and yet other scenes see them in Elizabethan outfits. Not establishing an overall style also applies to the projections that make good use of the plain cyclorama. Titles appear with act, scene and line references to commence each section of the performance and then fade. Suggestions from the text are visualised, as with the falcon flying repeatedly across the moon. A BBC News-style clip makes a one-off appearance. The overall effect, however, is of a collection of ideas thrown together because the means of doing so happened to be available.
Zeynep Kepekli has some striking features in lighting that leave us in no doubt as to how much blood is swishing around. Sophia Simensky design fares less well. The oversized bath tub that is wheeled on and off seems excessive, despite the references to washing in the script, and Macbeth's bath was unconvincingly depicted.The appearance of bears, ranging from the walk-on of a monstrous Disney-style character, to a string of tiny teddies being pulled from the symbolic cot brought laughter from the auditorium and not in a kind way. The jury is still out on the red feathers for blood that gave the appearance of shredded boas.
This approach to Macbeth is not without successful precedent but here the vision and skill to pull it off is seriously lacking.