Macbeth – mac, Birmingham

Writer:William Shakespeare
Director: Andy Barrow
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Oddsocks Productions, formed in 1989 by husband and wife team, Andy Barrow and Elli Mackenzie, aims to ‘tell good stories in a fun interactive way’, producing a ‘theatre experience for everyone’. Since 1993, they have mounted two tours per year, performing all over the country, often outdoors. Snippets of overheard conversation when the cast mingles with the audience before the start shows that they feel that, despite the reimagining of Macbeth into a near-future dystopia, there is a feeling that this is how audiences would have experienced Shakespeare in the 16th and early 17thCenturies: strolling players outdoors, incorporating the popular music of the time.

This is indeed an evening for all: advertised as being suitable for anyone over the age of seven, there is plenty to keep the attention of the younger members of the audience while retaining many of Shakespeare’s familiar lines. There is much madcap humour in their physicality and also in the way they overcome any issues with being outside – on this occasion, loud squawking from nearby geese was incorporated into the narrative. Before the performance, one boy professed to being worried that the play might be scary only to be reassured by a cast member that this was unlikely. The rather dark elements of witchcraft, treachery, murder and madness are indeed leavened through music and humour; and the utter demolition of any fourth wall – as well as mixing with the audience before the start of each half, the cast is introduced before the start of the play, and a brief summary of the action so far precedes the second half – helps us to imagine we are among friends who happen to be reenacting a story for us.

And does it matter that, in making the play less scary, in using very skilful but stylised stage fighting or in using humour to gloss over some pretty lurid plot points – the death of Lady Macbeth being an obvious example – some of the play’s original message is understated? Given the target audience, then no, it doesn’t – if one is looking for detailed and nuanced characterisations then an Oddsocks production is probably not for you. Even so, this remains a pretty faithful rendition of Macbeth and a good introduction to it for younger members of the audience, and for this, the Oddsocks family must be applauded.

The music used is contemporary but is sometimes used more as punctuation than exposition. Nevertheless, the choices are rather inspired – when the ‘funbot’ witches are about to appear to Macbeth at the opening of the play they sing I Put a Spell on You, while a version of Mad World accompanies Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness. And there can be no denying that the actor-musicians are hugely talented as they play a variety of instruments to accompany themselves.

Andy Barrow plays Macbeth as a gruff northerner who is nonetheless impressed by the witches and allows himself to give in to base instincts. Rebecca Little’s Lady Macbeth is shrill and clearly the power behind the throne. Despite her small stature, she fills the stage whenever she appears on it. Gavin Harrison is great fun as a bearded witch and also as the ill-fated Duncan and later as a murderer charged with the killing of Banquo. Matthew Burns is wonderfully over the top as Macduff – though the pace is such that his performance is forced to lack subtlety. Alexander Bean has great stage presence (and a warm, booming voice) as Banquo and the ghost at the feast, while Pippa Lewis’ performance of Fleance as a goth teen is a pleasure to watch.

If you are a member of Oddsocks’ target audience and are looking for an entertaining, if relatively undemanding, introduction to one of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays suitable for a family audience, then this show is undoubtedly for you: with its pace, humour and physicality it is a feast for the eyes and ears.

Reviewed on 16 July 2017 and on tour| Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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