Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Jo Loyn
Reviewer: Kelyn Luther
2018 marks the fourth year of ‘Bard in the Yard’- Barbican Theatre’s summer Shakespeare production staged outdoors in the ‘secret garden’ of Residence One, Royal William Yard. Having previously staged only comedies in this way, Macbeth might seem like an odd choice – after all, the foreboding gloom of Scotland doesn’t seem to lend itself to a summer’s day.
And yet it does give new emphasis to “When the battle’s lost and won/That will be ere the set of sun”, as the sun quite literally sets by the play’s end. The sunnier setting permeates director Jo Loyn’s production, a much lighter and more energetic version of Macbeth.
Jay Kerry’s set design lays out the play’s conflict very effectively. At one end, we have the four weird people (the witches of the original play are swapped for petty vandals, who loiter aggressively against a backdrop of ominous graffiti, swinging around scaffolding as if it was their playground) and at the other, we have steps leading up to the throne and the large crown that oversees all.
Macbeth (Hassan Maarfi) can barely contain his excitement at the prophecy that he will be king and his power-woman wife Lady Macbeth (Seren Vickers) has the whole thing in hand. Vickers’ performance convinces us that naturally, Macbeth would feel entirely safe in her hands, making it believable that he might think he could get away with it. Whilst other Macbeths are wracked with doubt, Maarfi feels he has won the lottery. He has only ‘vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other side’- a line which is tossed off dismissively, as if he thinks it’s a joke, though the audience knows that it will prove true.
Not all of the lines are read with this nuance – the focus of this production is action, not text. Only Vickers as Lady Macbeth really commands both the verse and the action, making it feel heightened and yet modern. Whilst it makes for a more overall entertaining play, it makes for a less poetic one. It’s not weighed down by gloom as some productions are but lack the full weight of tragedy that closer attention to the verse would have brought.
Modern dress productions sometimes overstretch themselves in trying to convince us the play really is of the smartphone era. The weird people waving their smartphones about, presumably to charm Macbeth, isn’t as effective as it might have seemed on paper. There are some irreverent modern touches that do work- the porter has been split into three porters, clowning about and telling each other ‘knock knock’ jokes that aren’t exactly Shakespearean, and it is never disrespectful of the play.
This is a vigorous production, with six of the actors multi-roling every minor and secondary part and some thrilling fight choreography from Seren Vickers. By losing the darkness of the auditorium, the production feels liberated from tradition, hopefully, this will be the cue to bring some of Shakespeare’s other tragedies outdoors, as it reminds us that they were entertaining as well as enlightening.
Runs until 11th August 2018 | Image: Gemma Ward