Macbeth – Oxford Playhouse

Reviewer: Simon Tavener

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Richard Twyman

Macbeth is not an easy play. The writing is uneven, almost inconsistent, there are too many indistinct supporting characters and the plot is often said to have a number of holes. It is understandable when directors seek radical solutions to bring the piece to the stage for modern audiences.

Richard Twyman and his team have indeed adopted a radical approach and, whilst that may provide A Level Drama students plenty of material for their essays, it actually does the play, and audiences, a disservice. This is a fractured and frustrating piece of work.

The script has been reshaped but in ways that create confusion. Much of the opening act has been lost and so vital characters such as Malcolm and Macduff appear as shadows of what was originally intended meaning their scenes at the end of the play are not properly established.

The reduction of cast size does mean the audience does not have to keep track of too many interchangeable Thanes but it does mean that three of Shakespeare’s most famous characters (and their even more famous lines) are missing. Whilst this may have seemed a good idea in the rehearsal room, it has not translated well to the stage. If you did not know the play to some extent, you may well struggle to follow the action.

The production does have a near contemporary setting but one that does not fully establish the world of the play. It does not have the feel of a royal court in disarray. It might evoke the dog eat dog corporate world or equally be the world of rival crime gangs where violence is currency and loyalty always in question. The lack of clarity in the staging does little to assist audience members in situating the production.

The biggest failing of the production is arguably in the handling of the language. There is not enough attention paid to the delivery of the verse by a number of the actors. Too many lines are chopped up or rushed. No one wants Shakespeare to be preserved in aspic and there is a freedom in verse delivery that allows much room for creativity; but the verse must still be respected.

All of the actors use body microphones which are essential in a number of sequences but, here again, there are too many instances where the sound is muffled or lost leaving parts of the play unintelligible. A similar issue arises when diction is sacrificed by some of the cast. Language matters and if the audience cannot hear what an actor is trying to say then too much is lost.

This is not true of the entire cast. Honora Kamen and Leo Wan both handle the text in a clear and comprehensible way. There is no lack of talent, ability or experience in the cast but it is clear that there has been a lack of care taken of the text on the part of the production.

The use of live video is now somewhat of a theatrical cliche. Here it only rises above the predictable in the banquet scene which, thankfully, does work well. Music is similarly overused throughout. If each musical moment were to be cut to half the current length, they would have greater impact.

It is clear that a lot of thought has been put into the production. However, too many of the ideas, which may make sense to those in the rehearsal room, fail to work for the audience.

Runs until 16 March 2024 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Fractured and frustrating

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The Reviews Hub - Central

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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