Thursday 21 March 2019

21/03/19: Macbeth, Jacksons Lane, Highgate

Directed by Mary Swan, the Proteus theatre company’s version of “the Scottish play” is boldly set in the City in October 1987 just as Black Monday sent financial markets reeling into chaos.

The action takes place in snappy suits, with cocaine snorted off glass tables and dialogue barked into office telephones. The production picks up on the themes of corporate greed and ambition that famously characterise that era. I would have liked them to have done much more with this notion and fully explore those ideas, but the stock exchange context provides a visual backdrop rather than an integral, driving element in how the story unfolds.

A cast of just five actors ambitiously take on all the major parts. Macbeth himself is played by Riz Meedin, who if anything seems a little too casual and unruffled in his delivery to truly carry off the complexity of the role. There’s something missing – an intensity, perhaps. Danny Charles ably tackles Duncan, MacDuff and Lennox, while Umar Butt is fairly solid as Banquo. But all three males are often upstaged by the two female leads. Alexandra Afryea is especially strong as Lady Macbeth and the scene in which she sleepwalks, visibly tormented by her deeds, is perhaps the most memorable of them all. Meanwhile, Jessica Andrade proves herself hugely versatile as Malcolm, Lady MacDuff, the doctor and one of the witches.

It was an inspired choice to play 1980s pop and new-wave music over the sound system between scenes. Bursts of Bronski Beat, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Eurythmics, Japan, Joy Division and The Smiths are highly effective. Better still is the wonderful surprise moment near the beginning when the cast suddenly start moving in time to the stark drum-machine mechanics of “Blue Monday” by New Order. It’s both funny and startling. A later scene, just as powerful, has Jessica Andrade lip-syncing to Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times”. Macbeth is at its greatest when it takes these audacious liberties with the source material – those brief instances when it veers off into almost surreal interpretation and embraces the worlds of dance and mime. It’s less successful at delivering the primary narrative. Despite a running time of more than two hours, much of the plot progression felt rushed and disjointed. It’s perhaps inevitable that large chunks of Shakespeare’s writing need to be done away with in any modern adaptation, but it sometimes seemed that these edits were made at the expense of logic or clarity. If you are already familiar with the play in its entirety, though, you’ll find that there’s plenty to enjoy here.


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