Director: Geoff O’ Keeffe
‘Oh, horror, horror, horror…’ It’s close to Halloween and the weird sisters are brewing up a heap of trouble for Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis and about to become the Thane of Cawdor. His eagerness to fulfil the witches prophecy leads him to seal his own fate and that of many others along the way. Goaded on by his wife he murders King Duncan, an action which sets in train a slew of other deaths. The challenge for the audience is to keep track of them as the bodies stack up and the protagonists dissemble. It is a dark tale, reminding us that these are dark times for many.
Mill Productions’ version of Macbeth at the Mill Theatre in Dundrum, Co. Dublin, directed by Geoff O’ Keeffe, is beautifully staged and passionately presented by young actors who engage with and enliven a narrative that seems as relevant today as when Shakespeare first penned it over 400 years ago.
The setting is contemporary: grey and minimal with marvellously effective sound and stage design (the set design is by Gerard Bourke, sound is by Declan Brennan), making us feel that we are witnessing something post-apocalyptic. Ruairí Lenaghan in the main role is confident, convincing and suitably conflicted. Banquo, played by Ben Waddell, is an excellent foil; feared and resented by Macbeth for his wisdom and valour, leading to another death and Banquo’s ghost, who creates some great stage action.
There is good chemistry between Macbeth and the leading lady, played with verve by Jenny Fennessy, enough to persuade us that there’s two of them in it. As the plot evolves however we think Macbeth may not be as full of the ‘milk of human kindness’ as his wife initially surmised. Nor, however, is she as steely or ‘unsexed’ as we might have supposed.
A memorable moment is when the guilt ridden Lady Macbeth attempts feverishly and fruitlessly to cleanse her hands in the cleverly positioned ‘bloodbath’, an actual bath which is a critical part of the stage set. ‘Out damned Spot’ is a moment and line that resonates, but there are many in a play where so many phrases seem so familiar we need to remind ourselves that they were coined by Shakespeare, long before their popularity rendered them clichés. Macbeth’s coldness on learning of his wife’s suicide is chilling. ‘Life it is a tale, all told by an idiot, all sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Lenaghan pauses before uttering that last word. We almost empathise with his character’s despair. After all, he was once a valiant officer, held in high regard, which makes his deception and betrayal all the more reprehensible.
For this reviewer, one of the strongest scenes in the play is delivered by Eoghan Collins as Macduff who, on being told of the massacre of his wife and children registers his disbelief with tremendous emotional depth: ‘My wife killed too….. All my pretty ones… What, all my pretty chickens and their dam, at one fell swoop’. It is indeed shocking. If Macduff exhorts himself to ‘feel it like a man’, it is with the aim of bringing us, the audience right in to this harrowing scene. By witnessing his pain we may also feel it.
A few light moments were provided by the Porter at the gate, played very ably by Karen Kelly, in Act 2, scene 3. Do the bawdy jokes seem out of place after what has just happened, or, did Shakespeare feel it necessary to offer us a distraction from the Kings murder its enormity and awfulness. Either way, uneasy laughter rippled through the audience. The bard could always tell a good one and Shakespeare gets away with a lot.
Sound and lighting are used to great atmospheric effect whenever the ‘weird women’ appear, enthralling the crowd with their very creepy choreographed movements and, even creepier lines: ‘Round about the cauldron go. Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog’. Centuries later, this is still great stuff.
Several of the actors double up. Ethan Dillon, Kia Gates, Aoife Morgan Jones and Morgan Fitzpatrick all play several minor roles as well as donning witches dress; nylon masks and sleeping bag fabric emphasising the post-apocalypse look. Despite the several costume changes, their energy never flags.
In the entire production just one thing jars. I wonder why the two murderers, assigned by Macbeth to dispatch Banquo, have adopted quite convincing and distinctive Northern Irish accents and, how might that go down with visitors or audiences from across the border? While this might be a comment on Ireland’s own bloody past there is a danger that it could be construed as stereotyping.
That observation apart, this was a great evening out. This is perfect theatre for the Season of Samhain. Go see.
Runs Until 27 October 2022.