Macbeth of Fire and Ice at the Arcola Theatre
It’s a strange truth that Macbeth – The Scottish Play – is predominantly performed without even the hint of a Scotch accent from the cast. Such is also the case in Macbeth of Ice and Fire, but the English actors are joined by an Icelandic production team (featuring no less than four Thors) and no shortage of accompanying Norse mythology.
The story remains untouched: upon hearing a prophecy from a cabal of witches that he is to be king of Scotland, Macbeth sets out to speed up the process – topping everyone above him socially before getting his comeuppance.
Director Jon Gun Thor reinterprets this story from a Nordic perspective – or rather, he sort of does. The odd heathen monologue and incantation to Thor aside, this is Macbeth as it has very much been seen before. That a pagan reading of Macbeth isn’t even slightly justifiable academically is by-the-by: the idea fits. The execution, however, is undercooked.
The great Eddic tales of Scandinavia mirror Macbeth with alarming likeness. In Völuspá Odin learns his fate from a taunting seeress and becomes obsessed. Elsewhere the fierce maiden Guðrun incites men to kill against their better judgment by questioning their masculinity. These characters are Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in all but name. What a shame, then, that director Thor serves up Norse-lite when the full-fat version could have been so glorious.
Which is not to say that there isn’t plenty to recommend this production: visually gorgeous (with fire, sinister masks, corn-syrup bloodbaths and up-close brawls), Thor has thought a lot about the look of the play and used the versatile space of the Arcola to great effect. Hannes Thor Egilsson’s turn as movement director imbues the fight scenes with a vital immediacy, and Harry Napier’s musical accompaniment lends something of the epic soundscape to the play. Mark Ebulue delivers Macbeth’s iambic verse with a natural delicacy, Alex Britton’s Macduff is show-stealing and Molly Gromadzki’s Lady Macbeth is every inch the seductive plotter that she should be – even if her performance errs on the shouty, un-nuanced side.
Trimming Macbeth down to a sprightly hour and a half is not so much an exercise in cutting as wildly hacking with a Viking broadsword. This focuses things, crassly at times with entire subplots lost, but it serves the play well as a whole. Macbeth of Fire and Ice is fast and aggressive – indeed, perhaps it could do with a little more ice and a little less fire.
Photos: Rah Petherbridge
Macbeth of Fire and Ice is at the Arcola Theatre until 16th November 2013. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.