Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group (EGTG) presents a modern telling of Macbeth at the Assembly Roxy. William Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy is one that should terrify the audience and leave them rapt, and so it is unfortunate that one would find this production a lacklustre exploration of this beloved play.
The fiery lighting and billowing smoke as the witches enter promises a dramatic, atmospheric performance. Yet despite the use of abstract coloured lighting and the ethereal sound of drums, the delivery of the lines during thrilling moments leaves a lot to be desired; the witches, despite their grand entrance, are quiet and restrained rather than the chilling beings one would expect. Although it is always positive to see actors taking on the skill of stage combat, Gordon Craig’s fight choreography is clumsy and simplistic with movements appearing limp rather than tense. Without the energy required for the combat, the movements looked sluggish and without passion or fury, a necessity in a play about war.
Naomi Wallis-Ryder’s directorial approach focuses on her desire to alter our understanding of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s infamous marriage, with an aim to present Lady Macbeth as a more sympathetic figure rather than the manipulative, ‘tiger wife’ she is often portrayed as. Reinterpreting Shakespeare is a popular, and usually successful, facet of theatre, yet here, in cutting so many lines in order to mould Lady Macbeth into her desired character, Wallis-Ryder reduces the role to a two dimensional, gentle figure with little drive or function other than being the supportive wife and hostess. Despite this error in the direction, Rhiannon King performs Lady Macbeth with assurance, and, although her movement is wooden, in act one, her crazed performance in the famous ‘out, damned spot, out’ monologue is the peak of the performance with some emotional depth.
The directorial focus on Lady Macbeth may also, unfortunately, be the cause of the incomplete characterisation of both Banquo and Macbeth with the two, friends in the play, appearing cold and unfamiliar on the stage. While Jacques Kerr gains confidence as the mad tyrant in act two, his performance of the charismatic, confident soldier in act one is unsuccessful as he lacks amicable and romantic chemistry with both his wife and friend. Even when he appears to get into his stride in the second act, Alastair Lawless as Banquo seems unmoved in his soliloquies, with his face appearing expressionless. Perhaps Wallis-Ryder is aiming for a soldier’s stoicism with her interpretation of Banquo, however in this performance, without any emotion, we are left wanting more from the actor.
It is admirable for a production to create the idea of palace rooms using only a minimal set but the production does so effectively with the famous banquet scene being conveyed simply with a few wine glasses, a decanter and the necessary furniture. However, while the set was strong, the use of the space itself left ensemble members standing without any direction. During Duncan’s entrance to Macbeth’s castle, members of the ensemble stood, motionless, only rarely reacting or responding to the dialogue between the leads. The use of a large cast is positive in its inclusion of so many eager performers, but if they are not given anything to do when on stage, they become a burden to the energy of the performance. Added to this, due to the seating not being raised, when the action occurred on the floor, as much of it did, the audience further back in the rows are unable to see half the action. In not considering how this space is used, the audience is denied the entire performance.
This is a production that has good intentions and an interesting perspective on Shakespeare’s characters. However, without the attention to detail, and the overly eager cutting, the play loses the momentum and power of the production, leaving the audience deflated.
Runs 23rd-26th May