Macbeth. A tale of those seeking power for power’s sake, with murder, intrigue, witches, political struggles and a smattering of sexiness at its core. It’s a story which remains as relevant now as it was in Shakespeare’s time, as politicians and people in power remain as able as ever to lie to our faces in order to keep themselves on their pedestals. The first and only other time I’ve seen Macbeth I was 14 years old and studying it for my GCSE English Language exams. As part of our studies, we travelled to London to see it on the stage in order to bring the play to life. Unfortunately for my mates and me it did the exact opposite. We were unlucky enough to endure a two and a half hour version with no interval where all the characters were dressed entirely in black. The only thing I remember about the set was that was there was loads of scaffolding on the stage. Needless to say, we weren’t engaged in the slightest. I was a good girl in school, but I got a memorable telling off on the coach in front of my friends about my bad behaviour as we were all so bored by it, and a stern letter home to my parents! Despite this, I wanted to get to know the play and so read the text a few times, grappling with the archaic language and eventually falling in love with the story. It has been many (many) years since I studied Shakespeare and I am far from an aficionado, so I’ll admit that I was somewhat nervous and feeling a bit of imposter syndrome as I headed to the Tobacco Factory Theatre to see their company production of Macbeth on Tuesday.
The first thing that struck me as I walked into the auditorium was the flooring; not something you usually notice as a first impression at the Tobacco Factory! The floor was almost like walking on the moon, made up of thousands of tiny pieces of tyre rubber that made things bouncy and slightly disconcerting. The glowing cube in the centre of this in the round production and the throbbing white noise added to the otherworldly feel of the space. My initial fear seemed to be coming true; what if this performance was a post-modern stripped back piece, which might well leave me a bit cold? As the show began with a jolt, it soon became obvious that this show was going to bore nobody. Yes, the simple setting made it clear that director Adele Thomas wanted the focus to be on the dialogue and characters of the play, but everything else about the staging, lighting and sound made it punchy and exciting. In this interpretation of the classic text it was obvious that simple did not need to be dull. The passion and desire between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth when they are reunited after he led King Duncan’s forces to victory against the traitorous Thane of Cawdor, Macdonald and The King of Norway is palpable and sexy. The fight scenes are expertly directed by Kev McCurdy. Costumes were simple, but again this needn’t mean dull. I still remain struck by the red dress worn by lady Macbeth which seems to symbolise her womanliness, sexiness and lust for power at any cost, and the white she wears as she tries to act the perfect hostess, hold her crumbling household together and then as her sleepwalking gives away her guilt and dread at their crimes being discovered. I loved this show, and was absolutely rapt at the end. Sure, I drifted at times as I am out of practice at interpreting the Shakespearian language used, but the intimacy of seeing this show in a smaller theatre where the performance is in the round added to the overall experience. You were able to see the facial expressions of the actors, feel a tiny bit repulsed at the blood dripping from their hands as acts of violence were enacted, even though the logical part of you knew its not real. It was visceral, sexy, heart pumping and exciting stuff.
As a parenting website putting this review up, I feel its important to bring attention to the age recommendation of 12+ as this feels about right. It is a bit gruesome, and perhaps quite scary for the more sensitive child. However, I wish I had seen this stunning performance when I had been 14, rather than the version that almost put me off this play for life, and I wish I could talk to my old English teacher right now. He was so bloody cross at me at the time when I was mucking about, I see now he was just trying to get us all to love this story and probably kicked himself that he took us to such a bad version. If the version we had seen had been this one, I am sure there would have been more converts. I hope he would be pleased that I grew to love Macbeth and remain in love with it 25 years after I passed my English exam. Thank you Tobacco Factory Company for reigniting this.
Macbeth is on at the Tobacco Factory Theatres until 7th April 2018.
Review by Karen Blake