REVIEW: Macbeth at Liverpool Shakespeare Festival, Royal Court 25/09/12

MACBETH. Set in Liverpool. Gangs, guns, tower blocks. Sounds good, right? The “Scottish Play” gets reworked as a modern tale of gun crime and senseless violence in Lodestar Theatre’s production. It’s a great idea on paper, but does it work on stage? Luke Moore went along to find out..

Ok, I get it. Shakespeare should be accessible. I agree, in fact I’m fervently in favour of it and productions like this should be the gateway drug that works as the tip of a literary iceberg and open the door to a rich tapestry of drama that is as relevant today as ever. Nobody should need an English degree or a Masters in Theatre Studies to get, as in, really get the tragedy of a man’s lust for power, fuelled in part by his wife’s desire for the same, leading them both to pretty sticky ends. Art for all, sure. So there’s a lot to be said for not being precious about reworking some of the more unwieldy text, some of the more obscure references and even the settings and context of the Bard’s theatrical output but, however it’s done, a production should stay true to the spirit of the source material and add some other dimension to it. It’s in this last respect that I felt this version fell some way short, despite a number of (almost) redeeming positives.

First off then, Zoe Lister’s dangerously seductive portrayal of Lady Macbeth (who, depending on your viewpoint, is either along for the ride or actually the person responsible for the misgivings that follow) is for the most part a wickedly fascinating performance and steals the show. >From her first scene, sniffing lines of cocaine as she replays a voicemail from her husband that he will be king, she walks a tightrope, on one side, ruthless ambition, on the other, a long way down, the burden of guilt and a chasm into which her and her sanity will eventually fall. Deeply watchable, this Lady Macbeth has fangs, but is let down a little by an unsure supporting cast in her final scene on stage, detracting from an otherwise convincing psychotic meltdown before she hurls herself to her death. Gripping stuff.

 

Then there’s Michael Ryan’s effort as the eponymous deviant, also worthy of praise as his dreams become a self-fulfilling prophecy, then something much worse. There were some inconsistencies though and in his soliloquy with the “dagger of the mind”, the hasty pacing, as with much of the dialogue from the cast throughout, took away any mystique from the eerie vision before him. A shame then that the innovative use of projection to reanimate Banquo as a fifteen foot high ghostly vision later in the play wasn’t used to great effect here.

In terms of the rest of the production, well, it’s a really mixed bag, though a lot of the issues will probably have been addressed for the remainder of its run. A cinematic intro and breakbeat street dance style choreographed fight sequence raised high hopes. After that, almost every minute of the whole performance is underscored with music and aside from what plays during the scene changes, the remainder has a vibe of nineties survival horror video game ambience (ah, memories of playing Resident Evil and Doom on the original Playstation!). It takes away far more value than it adds, despite perhaps the best intentions of lending the play a more filmic edge. On top of that, all of the actors, as in so many contemporary shows, needlessly had radio mics. Why? I could only assume to overcome the music.

With the majority of the cast speaking with various different Merseyside accents, the drama on stage is brought closer to home. I liked this idea but again, the speedy delivery of lines throughout meant that in any accent, syllables, words and even whole phrases would get lost. Emotional colour is painted in bold primaries, with no light relief (the ‘porter scene’ being absent here), but for the most part, there is enough tension to keep the interest, even if at times it’s only surface deep.

Stylistically, a generally welcome variation to the more traditional set up, but with a script delivered at breakneck speed and the feel of the show being somewhere between Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie and Phil Redmond, this version of Macbeth’s identity is at times as unclear as the final scene’s head in a Tesco carrier bag.

WORDS: Luke Moore

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