Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Scott Ellis
Reviewer: Georgina Newman
Scott Ellis’ Macbeth for the Lion and Unicorn Theatre is a pared-down affair. It’s swiftly done, rather like a slide show with a stage for a projector screen, the scenes mere moments which pass in quickfire succession – rather akin to the blink-and-then-you’ve-missed-it method used in many of today’s TV detective dramas. But this is a sound approach by Ellis. Given the nature of the stage, with the audience sitting either side, there’s nearly always a New London Company cast member with their back to someone in the audience. Quick scene changes prevent this from occurring for a prolonged length of time.
The actors, most of whom play multiple rôles, are mainly decked in modern day military uniform, with daggers in belts and black army boots – save Lady Macbeth with her army of dresses. They move across the bare stage, expressively silhouetted by the film noir lighting. This is especially effective whenever Macbeth and Lady Macbeth meet alone on stage, and their darting eyes look splendidly sinister in the white light-dark shadow interchanges.
Regardless of being in the realms of Shakespearean tragedy, the three witches – two men in dresses, one woman in pink lycra leggings – are less a source of supernatural malevolence than of hippie fun and light relief. They still put forward the fateful prophecy, but at the same time manage to revive the 80s nightclub scene from some drug-induced delirium.
The highlight is the culminating scene, with just Macbeth, his new nemesis Macduff, a table, two chairs, a pistol, and a game of Russian roulette. With each spin of the cylinder feeling more and more like we’ve wondered into some Robert De Niro film, this method of showdown provides a nice alternative touch.
However brief, Albert Clack delivers a memorable Duncan. Suit-clad, his king is all warmth and fatherly benevolence. Ben Kavanagh is fairly solid as Macbeth, though he lacks that all-important greed for kingship. His is a boyish Macbeth, impulsive and impetuous, more angry than anything else. His tactic of constantly trying to steal eye contact with members of the audience while soliloquising is an eerie one that works well. It allows the audience to feel involved in his descent even if it puts you slightly on edge. The easy advantage of a small venue is the claustrophobic nature of the stage and its proximity to the audience which inevitably allows for a certain degree of feeling ill-at-ease. The main complaint with Natasha McClure’s Lady Macbeth is that she doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable enough. Her sleepwalking experience is a weepy one, but not much else. It passes quickly and is then all but forgotten. There’s no stillness to her plight, no lingering sense of grief, only affectation.
Kieran Sims gives a stand-out performance as Macduff. His drive to avenge Macbeth for the murder of his family is intensely palpable. In a play in which characterisation is poor for all but Macbeth, Sims manages to exhibit a lust for revenge which resonates poignancy, revealing a greater side to his character than we see of Macbeth.
There’s certainly more here to like than dislike. Ellis works well with the space afforded to him, and there are some strong performances from supporting cast members, but there’s little sense of the ambition which guides Macbeth or the tyrannous nature of his rule. The leap from first murder to madness is too great. More needs to be made of Lady Macbeth’s taunting emasculation of Macbeth and the curse of his ambition, otherwise it all seems too capricious. In this, it’s less tragic than it could be.