Writer: William Shakespeare
Devised scene: Gruff Theatre
Director: Felix Mortimer
Reviewer: Annegret Märten
Welcome to Borduria, the country inhabiting all fictional characters. Goldilocks lives in Northern Borduria but the portal in a basement of the brutalist Balfron tower leads straight to the grim South where the unscrupulous and scheming Macbeths reside. Alongside the fictional characters live the Bordurian citizens who show around the spatially shifted visitor and speak in borderline offensive Russian accents.
Director Felix Mortimer said that he never calls his work “immersive” and it crucially isn’t. Ushered around by two chaperons with varying degrees of improvisational ability the audience experiences the story of the murderous couple in short bursts. Several flats on various floors of the building serve as sets for the banquet, murders, fights and plotting. Michael Adams and Sarah Ratheram were the Macbeths on this particular evening and so close up they were particularly captivating.
Still, there is something inherently problematic with the way audience and performer interact and how the narrative is driven between the scenes. They are clearly separated from the action, mere onlookers so in the space it’s never quite clear what the audience’s funtion is.
Gavin Duff’s Banquo and Roseanne Lynch as Lady MacDuff manage to make blur the line as their performance is less heightened and their fate so bloody that compassion and shock eradicates all thought of dramaturgical logic.
Alexander Luttley’s flirty Porter gives us rare interaction with a fictional character and there is an utterly creepy devised scene by Gruff theatre which should not be spoiled but it feels like it’s straight out of horror film. However, it’s all too brief and doesn’t slot into the rest of the evening.
Exploring and roaming is not encouraged and challenging questions are blocked. The audience always remains contained and controlled. After being placed in front of a T.V blaring out lengthy faux news material, a visit to the toilet in a moment of unchaperoned free will turns out to be bad timing. The tragic Lady Macbeth scene is missed and tuts and disaproval from the chaperones are the greeting.
On every staircase or behind every corner there are Bordurian stage managers and assistants with clipboards not so secretely directing groups of actors from one place to the next. What a logistical effort from cast and crew, sadly not one that convinces entirely. The borscht served at dinner was terrific though, it was as blood-red as the plan of our murderous couple.
The passport necessary to enter Borduria and which is never referred back to throughout the performance strictly states potassium – or Banana – consumption is not advisable when traveling through the rift, yet the trifle served at dinner contains bananas. Little details like this show that this mammouth project is ultimately a fractured project and instead of emanating new insight these fractures unveil the crumbling substance of the piece itself. The Bordurian substance then, a mostly consistent design reminiscent of the socialist GDR in the 70s, falters behind the drab facades and curtains.
Probably pulled together on a tight budget the declared intention was to make Shakespeare more accessible to the community the performance takes place in yet I have to say that the audience group I was surrounded with could not have been any less diverse.
The tagline of the performance is “Does murder sleep?” and the answer to that is “Yes, very well actually.” Why the audience was made to stay overnight is unclear as the main action is all wrapped up by 1 am. There’s nothing like being woken up after five hours of sleep, made to climb up seven flights of stairs to stand on a wet East London roof top to witness the fizzled out after pains of a promenade performance. Clearer than anything else in this show is the potential of what could have been.
Runs until: 16th July 2014