Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Gavin McAlinden
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Finding a new take on a Shakespeare classic is a tricky task at the best of times. For a fringe production, sharing a stage and set with plays by Ibsen and Strindberg, it is certainly an uphill battle.
The Acting Gymnasium’s Macbeth, in repertory with the company’s Miss Julie and A Doll’s House, certainly could do with a more imaginative set than something with a fake fireplace and a couple of doors. It neither suggests blasted heath nor a Thane’s castle.
And so the domestic trappings of the set lie largely, and wisely, ignored, relying instead on a multinational, twenty-plus strong cast to transport us to a Scotland full of political intrigue and supernatural meddling.
It’s not an entirely successful approach. There is often a sense that Shakespeare’s occasionally dense prose is being recited rather than lived, or even understood – which is disappointing, given Acting Gymnasium’s weekly workshops are devoted to the exploration of classic texts.
There’s no denying the atmospheric manner in which director Gavin McAlinden introduces his three Witches (Tia Ahmed, Rozetta Lami and Karen Barredo), dressing them in billowing white gowns to contrast against the all-black, modern-day outfits of the rest of the cast. The witches’ sing-song delivery works fitfully: it is most effective in Macbeth’s revisit to them in Act IV, the sisters’ visions coming to them as part of a drug-fuelled bacchanal.
Elsewhere in their appearances, though, the witchy atmospherics tend to threaten to overwhelm the poetic dialogue, and often succeed. McAlinden introduces a couple of pleasing attributes to them, though, most notably their presence at Banquo’s death and a highly potent jump scare which is the only really effective use of the set the play shares with its rep partners.
Amongst the mortals of the cast, Michael Claff’s Macbeth displays an understanding of the text deeper than most, save for Tracy Coogan’s Lady M. Together, the couple’s presentation of the Macbeths’ power dynamic presents no surprises: it’s played down the line, exactly as one would expect.
As the royal couple’s machinations unravel with their own psychoses, Coogan’s sleepwalking Lady Macbeth is chilling, the psychological high point of the proceedings.
Outside the central couple, though, most actors struggle with the Shakespearean dialogue. A real understanding and evocation of the work never seems too far away, though. A case in point is Aton Stennett’s MacDuff, who in the play’s first half seems as detached from the text as some of the lower players; after the interval, though, his character deepens and his delivery improves to match.
Rylan Beech’s Malcolm, the true King of Scotland, has many demands placed upon him as the revolution to overthrow Macbeth gathers pace. While in exile, Beech makes for a pleasantly reluctant regent: as he begins to assume his role at the head of the army, one yearns for a comparable rise in his character which never quite appears.
And while several performances feels as if they have not yet discovered the key to unlocking the Shakespearean actor within, there are enough occasions where those connections between actor, character and text work that one hopes all of Acting Gymnasium’s students will learn and improve.
Runs until 23 November 2019 | Image: Contributed