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Macbeth – mac Birmingham

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Mike Tweddle
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight


Out of Chaos have done it again. After giving us their hilarious and fast-moving takes on Greek and Norse mythology in Unmythable and Norsesome, the West Midlands-based international group takes on the Scottish Play, giving it their own special treatment having adjusted the staging for just two actors. There is less of the madcap humour that permeates their devised work, but their other hallmarks – physicality and inventiveness – are still there in abundance.

The two actors slip between parts seamlessly, differentiating them by stance and voice – the actors are talented in physical theatre allowing them to assume multiple personas and imbue each with their own unique characteristics, maintaining mood through striking stances or their choreographed movement in three full dimensions. As characters enter or leave the stage, they tell us – “Enter Macbeth with a servant”, or “Exeunt all” so we are never in any doubt as to who is on stage and where. To fit the narrative into a fast-moving and thrilling 80 minutes obviously requires some cuts from Shakespeare’s original text, but the language that remains is recognisably Shakespeare’s: apart from one exception as the armies gather outside Dunsinane, Shakespeare’s verse is largely untouched – no dumbing down here. And on this opening night, the audience – including 100 or so 14- and 15-year-old excitable pupils from a local school – were entranced.

Of particular note is the incredibly atmospheric lighting design from Claire Browne. Harsh light boxes and torches shine cold light and direct huge shadows on drapes upstage. Occasionally, light is directed up onto the actors’ faces giving them the required otherworldly, supernatural feel. Sometimes, too, the drapes are illuminated from behind and we see the actors in silhouette against them. Despite the relatively bare stage, this two-man Macbeth is a visual feast. A sturdy table and two stools placed in various orientations or piled on top of one another provide interesting changes in level.

Phill Ward’s sound design provides a throbbing electronic backing to some scenes and punctuation between them as the locations move.

Mike Tweddle’s direction ensures that the pace never slackens and that the constant switches between characters do not become caricatures or impede the action. The lighter elements work well – for examplewhen Lady Macbeth greets her husband having heard the exciting news he has been given by the witches. But the more solemn moments are also truly effective. The actors positively inhabit their characters remaining totally believable and convincing, even when switching between them. The majesty and beauty of Shakespeare’s soliloquies are respected and maintained. Paul O’Mahony, joint artistic director of Out of Chaos, plays, among others, Macbeth. He shows the descent from happy-go-lucky war hero and friend to Banquo to scheming and thoroughly unpleasant tyrant perfectly. Among other characters, Troels Hagen Findsen plays Lady Macbeth. It is to his credit that this never appears odd, and her parallel descent into madness and suicide stay firmly on the right side of parody.

Once again, Out of Chaos have produced an accessible, entertaining, fast-moving but still demanding and rigorous piece. It now embarks on a short tour. If you want to see two masters of their craft tell a complex story in a compelling way, go see it!

Runs until 13 February 2016 and on tour | Image: Contributed

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A visual feast

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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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