Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Amber Elliott
Reviewer: Edie R
Staging “Macbeth” without an interval is a controversial choice. Two hours of unremitting gloom is a big “ask” from an audience even at the best of productions; and Titian Rep’s take on the play, while perfectly watchable, is not the best of productions. By the time the audience staggers out of the Camden People’s Theatre, reeling from 120 dreich minutes of gore and soul-searching, we’re so fed up with Scotland that if we were polled for the 2014 referendum we’d delight Alex Salmond with a unanimous “Yes”.
The salt in an otherwise rather savourless production is Tom Blyth’s interesting take on the character of Macbeth himself. Lanky and stilted, with a range of grimaces which would make Andy Murray proud, Blyth’s Macbeth is a weak-willed, vacillating thane, and a haunted, ever more jumpy king. He commands neither fear nor obedience. As he tries to persuade his hired murderers (Stephen Harakis and David Bevan) to take out Banquo (Gregory Simpson), he puts an awkward arm around Harakis, almost servile in his attempt at friendliness.
His relationship with Lady Macbeth (Louise Torres Ryan) is at once masochistic and convincingly maternal. Blyth spends much of the first acts on his knees before his wife, his head buried in her lap, as she runs a hand through his hair, increasingly at a loss how to comfort him. Their passionate physical intimacy works well, and Macbeth’s dull commentary on her suicide, “She should have died hereafter”, is the more shocking in its contrast to the torrid PDAs with which the production begins. Though initiating a bonk straight after the murder of Duncan (Stephen Harakis), in the middle of blood and daggers and with Macduff (Philip Nightingale) pounding on the castle door? Downright silly.
Lady Macbeth (Louise Torres Ryan) is less successful when left on her own. Her soliloquies palpitate with overdone horror at the murder she’s contemplating, at odds with her business-like response to the death itself. If Tom Blyth’s Macbeth were a stronger character, his bride might have more latitude to explore her softer side; but with the two Macbeths both equally emotionally fragile from the kick-off, it’s a wonder they can manage a household, let alone a regicide.
The supporting cast ranges from wooden (Philip Nightingale’s Macduff) to hammy in the case of David Bevan’s Malcolm – though at least his florid craziness makes some sense out of his strange meeting with Macduff in Act IV scene iii, lines which it’s notoriously difficult to gauge.
The exception to this mediocrity is George Dickson, who gives some good performances, first as Chief Witch, and then as Lady Macduff. Director Amber Elliott ingeniously gets around the smallness of her cast by staging the Hecate scenes (which would otherwise demand manpower for three apparitions, as well as Hecate herself) as a “possession” of each witch in turn by demonic voices. The other witches struggle to get in sync with the canned devils who are meant to be speaking through their lips; but Dickson manages her Exorcist-style growl with flair. Her Lady Macduff captures suitable outrage at her absconding husband’s cowardice, and ends her life in a fine display of stage-fighting (thumbs up to fight choreographer Lyndall Grant, who delivers effective punch-ups throughout).
There’s a fair amount to like in this production, and Tom Blyth, in particular, is worth seeing. But forsooth! it’s a tough watch without so much as a half-time ice-cream to tide you over.