The Tragedy of Macbeth at Southwark Playhouse
It is understandable that a director would want to bring something unique in the long history of Shakespeare adaptations; but when there is so much in a new performance that it distracts from the actual content of the play, one must ask, “Was it worth it?”. Henry Maynard’s version of Macbeth adds so much that he forgets one vital ingredient: subtlety.
This is a pity, since theatre company Flabbergast are full of ideas. But grey, dust-covered outfits, a gritty, grotty wasteland in a world of groaning, moaning and banging, and lots of mud, paint and wine on-stage lead to an overwhelming and overbearing production that is tough to see, hear and even smell. There’s so much of everything – above all, too much noise. The importance of understatement with Shakespeare’s language is lost in the endless soundscape.
It’s not even that the base concept is a bad one per se. Juxtaposing physical Butoh (a form of Japanese dance theatre) with Shakespeare’s verse should work well, but here it causes almost every urgent soliloquy to be drowned out by other actors banging on the stage with rods, gurgling in the background or other things, and one misses half of the point. At least the director has mercy on Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and a handful of other scenes in that regard.
Setting Macbeth in an animalistic, tribal wasteland also sounds good on-paper, in support of the creeping sense of madness and loss of stability in the text, but when so much is over-the-top it feels like the production is simply aiming at shock value, and in the process loses the fundamental emptiness that the titular character is supposed to feel at the end of his journey. The result is more like mockery than a serious interpretation – full of sound and fury, signifying… well.
But there are strong elements to the show. Matej Matejka’s movement direction is unquestionably top-notch, with its emphasis on physicality and sensuality, and it is supported well by Rachel Shipp’s lighting. Maynard’s costumes are monochrome but do match the grey wasteland he is trying to create for his vision of the play. Finishing on Adam Clifford’s arrangement of The Three Ravens is also a nice touch.
As such, this production is difficult to recommend. It contains many wild ideas and should be entertaining enough – it’s creative and untamed if nothing else.
Photo: Michael Lynch
The Tragedy of Macbeth is at Southwark Playhouse from 14th March until 8th April 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.