The Macbeths – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Dominic Hill

Reviewer: Edie Ranvier

Forget the witches, haunted banquets and walking trees: the bloody beating heart of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the relationship between the regicidal Scot and his fiendlike queen, who between them nab almost all the best lines in the Scottish Play.

So the vision of director Dominic Hill and dramaturg Frances Poet for The Macbeths is a rather inspired one. This touring two-hander from the Citizens’ Theatre is Macbeth flayed of character and setting, stripped down to its central couple and bounded by their bloodstained bedroom. The audience is trapped with the pair as they break apart in suffocating proximity. It’s a compelling concept. It should work. And about half the time, it does.

The production opens with Macbeth (played here as a woman by Lucianne McEvoy) telling her wife about her encounter with the witches, and the first scenes are strong, nourished by absorbingly nuanced performances from the leads. Charlene Boyd is a complicated and fragile Lady Macbeth, lurching from rage through tears to passive aggression, and preoccupied with memories of a lost child whose lullaby haunts the play.Opposite her, McEvoy endows Macbeth with humanity and gravitas which unhinge towards the maniacal as the play goes on. Her vocal range holds the audience’s attention through long unbroken soliloquies which might pall without it. But though they put the first two acts of the text to thought-provoking use, the actors are increasingly fighting against their script as the play goes on.

As Lady Macbeth fades from the original and Boyd takes on more of her lines from excised characters, motivations break down, and plausibility with them. The nascent psychodrama starts to feel like an intellectual exercise in how to cram 18 settings and 30-odd characters into one dialogue without losing too much plot in the process.

Some of the solutions are ingenious. A spooky tape-recorder under the couple’s bed broadcasts the witches; on it McEvoy plays and replays the cassettes of her killings while Boyd muffles her ears with a pillow. But the more violently the production contorts itself to fit its clever premise, the more the audience is left wondering whether it’s worth it.

Whatever your conclusion, The Macbeths remains a brave reimagining of the original, infused with emotional depth from the two leads which opens up new perspectives on a centuries-old classic.  

Runs until 20 October 2018 | Image: Contributed

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The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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