Writer: William Shakespeare
Adaptor: Kerry Frampton
Director: Kerry Frampton and Matt Wilde
Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
Splendid Productions have pared back “The Scottish Play” to an hour in length, and a cast of three, for their visit to the intimate studio setting at The Lowry. The production is squarely aimed at schools, and much of the current tour involves performances with accompanyingworkshops for GCSE students. The audience tonight is a similar demographic.
The educational approach creates some constraints. The production retains the most memorable dramatic set pieces, and the keynote speeches and soliloquies. But it also means that the play becomes a series of headlines with subtitles, carefully broken down into manageable chunks, and clearly defined themes. These are carefully signalled by the use of (invisible) placards, and deliberate “Expositions” of the key developments of the plot. The context is set with a preamble on choosing a leader, and there is a running commentary on the nature of leadership, in a series of asides.
The plotline of the play is followed faithfully, as Macbeth’s ambition, fuelled by the witches’ prophecies and his wife’s desires, propel the once-loyal general on a trajectory of regicide, tyranny, despair, and death. Economy dictates that the focus of the production is not dissipated by the acidic comic relief of the Porter scene, or Malcolm’s laborious testing of MacDuff’s morality and loyalty. But the essence of the play is sustained, and most of Shakespeare’s best lines are faithfully preserved and handled with due reverence. Reverence is laid aside for song treatments of some episodes including Banquo’s murder, and the slaughter of the MacDuff household to the very catchy refrain: “I’m Lady MacDuff/And I’ve had enough…” And while the form may break with the original, it still manages to capture the essence of the scene, and the piteous nature of the event.
The three actors, Scott Smith, Genevieve Say and Mark Beirne, provide an energetic ensemble performance, smoothly transitioning between roles and engaging imaginatively with the audience to conscript occasional additional players, and to involve them in the action. (The entire auditorium are commissioned to serve as trees for the march by Burnham Wood on Dunsinane.) Costumes are simple, neutral mumming outfits, flexible enough to fit all purposes; the stage is naked, but the cast does not restrict themselves to the stage level, taking the action into the auditorium to expand the playing area when necessary. The house lights are kept up throughout to affect this, and also help to de-mystify the dramatic process.
It would be easy to dismiss this production as little more than an entertaining crib for students cramming the play for exams, obviating the need to sit through the entire tragedy, while retaining the highlights. If that were all it had to commend it, it would do poor service to the play, its author, or the audience. Instead, it must be accepted as something other than Macbeth the play. Different, but still worthy in its own right, and deserving respect as a well-crafted, enterprising, imaginative, and highly enjoyable piece of theatre. If it helps to secure a few good exam grades, so much to the good. If it fires the theatrical imagination of some young souls to further explore the plays of Will Shakespeare, so much the better.
Reviewed on 17 November 2016.