Writers: William Shakespeare, ‘Roman de Fruscan’, Jennifer Rigby
Directors: ‘Roman de Fruscan’, Nicky Cox
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
As 2018 blinks blearily into life, Birmingham’s Blue Orange Theatre brings us two short plays each inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth: Full of Sound and Fury, credited to one Roman de Fruscan, and Signifying Nothing, by Jennifer Rigby.
Dreamscape Theatre’s Full of Sound and Fury looks at a performance of Macbeth from the cast’s point of view. As it begins, Olga Novak’s Lady Macbeth is delivering a heartfelt speech and disturbed by noises off. Eventually, she can take no more and leaves the stage to remonstrate with the company’s self-obsessed actor-manager, Lewis Brush, who has cast himself in the lead rôle. As the play progresses, the pair slip in and out of their characters as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth as we see them argue about the play, their philosophical outlooks on acting as an art, and their relationship with each other.
It’s not entirely clear how we should take Full of Sound and Fury: it has comedic moments as Novak berates Brush using pompous, over-the-top dramaturgical language, and it becomes clear that Brush has formed his company, Rogues and Vagabonds, in response to a marked lack of interest from casting directors in his excessively wooden acting. There are also moments of drama as they argue points in front of the audience, even including the audience in their debates on the merits of, for example, nudity in a production. Of course, Novak and Brush are themselves characters, played by Tina Hofman and Marcus Fernando. The play becomes increasingly self-indulgent and self-referential as we realise that the supposed impromptu backstage conversations are all scripted. It becomes more convoluted and difficult to see where it is going. Some of the jokes feel a bit derivative, some overstay their welcome a touch, and the whole feels overlong. The audience participation bits are also a touch uncomfortable to watch, as is no doubt the intention. Nevertheless, Fernando and Hofman, playing rather two-dimensional characters, make a decent fist of the material, allowing us to contrast Lewis and Novak as themselves with their performances as the Macbeths.
In Signifying Nothing from Shakespeare Stripped, writer and performer Jennifer Rigby takes words of Shakespeare from Macbeth to recast the story from Lady Macbeth’s viewpoint. Lady Macbeth’s descent into obsessive madness is well-presented: she shares the stage with three chairs that are used as surrogate characters as she sinks more deeply into herself. Lady Macbeth is doomed to repeat her actions over and over, reflecting ever more deeply on them but always trapped in that cycle.
It’s a short piece, only half an hour, which maybe reflects the stage time Lady Macbeth gets in Shakespeare’s original, rather longer, epic. It takes a short while for the audience to see what is happening and to grasp the structure of the piece. One feels at first almost that one is watching an audition piece as Lady Macbeth interacts with characters not physically present. However, it gradually becomes clear that we are not watching the events of the original play unfold but rather Lady Macbeth’s obsessive recollection of them. It’s a brave piece, seeking to take us inside her head and almost comes off. Rigby’s performance is well-judged under competent direction from Nicky Cox, and we are left contemplating the impact Lady Macbeth’s actions have had on the balance of her mind. An interesting piece with potential.
Runs until 20 January 2018 | Image: Contributed