2008: Macbeth

EIF THEATRE
2008: Macbeth
4 stars ****
Lowland Hall, Ingliston

IN A SENSE, we are all familiar with images of death in recent wars across the Middle East; of people shot by snipers in narrow streets between white walls, or bayoneted to oblivion in small concrete rooms where sharp sunlight seeps through shuttered windows.

It is a shock to the system, though, to walk into the transformed Lowland Hall at Ingliston, and see that streetscape realised before our eyes, in the huge set for TR Warszawa’s massive contemporary response to the most widely-performed of all Shakespeare’s plays. The scale of the set – like a Beirut urban fortress on three floors – is so vast that in many ways, Gregor Jarzyna’s production ceases to be live theatre, and becomes a kind of i-max installation experience with moments of heavily-miked live performance; if we want to see the actor’s faces with any clarity, we have to wait for the moments when their live close-up images are projected onto the walls of the set.

As an interpretation of the play, Jarzyna’s Macbeth makes two points with great clarity; that the world of hi-tech modern warfare is still full of warlords like Macbeth, and that men who are praised for ruthless killing in war – even when, as in Jarzyna’s opening scene, it involves blasphemy and war-crime – are unlikely to find it easy to stop once the battle is over.

Apart from that, its approach to the play – not helped by English surtitles that mix the original text with flat naturalistic banalities – is unsubtle, and sometimes crude. It reduces Lady Macbeth to a vulgar housewife, is oddly bereft (despite Shakespeare’s magnificent poetry on the subject, all cut here) of a wider sense of Macbeth’s impact on the territory he rules, makes very little of the colonising aspect of his final defeat, and never develops the strange presence on stage of a rabbit-like court jester, and a sinister magician. The final impression is of an not-entirely-successful experiment in the idea of Shakespeare as spectacle, backed by resources so vast that some crucial decisions about meaning and focus have been avoided; yet if the end result has its limitations, the spectacle itself is breathtaking, transforming, and unforgettable.

Joyce McMillan
Untl 15 August
EIF p. 7

ENDS ENDS

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