Swansea-based Volcano Theatre’s Macbeth: Director’s Cut is a deconstructed, two-person adaptation of Shakespeare’s text, performed with charisma and conviction by Alex Harries (who audience members may recognise from Hinterland) and Mairi Phillips.
The show ends with the pair chasing each other around the stage, calling fragments of the original opening dialogue between the three witches (the third is, conspicuously, missing). The show begins with individual choreographies of hand-wringing that build in violence, then break for Harries and Phillips to discuss concepts of time, and choice. In the middle of the show, Shakespeare’s characters hop from mouth to mouth, shrouded body bundles plummet from the ceiling, and audience members are invited to become guests at the feast where Banquo’s ghost sends Macbeth further into madness.
Director Paul Davies has reduced the narrative plotting of the seventeenth century script to present the immediacy of central events, breathless and intense. Sections of contemporary dialogue that have been written specifically for this show reveal the charm and humour of a thoroughly likeable Macbeth and Lady, qualities which, no doubt, allow them to get away with so much and for so long. They are a playful pair, each with their own madness – his a manic eye and frenetic energy, hers a trancelike obsession with child-sized dolls (indicating, perhaps, her own wistful desires for a lost child, or a post-natal disconnection). Combined, their love and madnesses lead to the bloody choices of Shakespeare’s anti-heroes.
It’s unlikely that an audience unfamiliar with the original would be able to determine the classic tale of Macbeth, due to the large cuts and unmarked interchanging of character lines. What they will get, however, is a theatrical explosion of key brutalities and racking doubts with, at it’s heart, a deeply loving – deeply destructive – relationship between two people. The adage tells us that for every event there are three versions – your story, their story, and the truth. The textual shake-up in Macbeth: Director’s Cut means that we do not get anyone’s complete story, but reach instead some truths.
Volcano Theatre have been making theatre for nearly 30 years, and first produced a ‘director’s cut’ of Macbeth in 1999, directed by Nigel Charnock and starring Fern Smith and now-director Paul Davies. It should be noted that this version, however, is a new show. Sounds of fury are replaced by electric lutes and wind noises. An all white set is elegantly and interestingly lit by Ben Stimpson, while Tina Torbey’s design allows hanging battle standards to become bed curtains, a cupboard to become a coffin or a kissing booth, and a chest of drawers to become a hiding place for fugitive Fleance or a perch of power for the Queen. Sporadic projections add little other than visual variation to the business of the scenes, but Catherine Bennett’s movement direction helps reveal the drama of the characters’ mental states.
The production, however, lives through its two performers. Phillips is particularly striking in her ability to deliver both regal poise and clownlike foolery across the show’s 80 minutes. While it may signify nothing in particular, there are enough fragments of layered imagery for us to find our own interest. It is not a tale told by an idiot, but dramatic moments presented very cleverly. Perhaps, for those hoping to encounter Shakespeare’s story in a recognisable fashion, too cleverly. For those already familiar with the words and routines, though, Macbeth: Director’s Cut is a refreshing post-modern take on the internal workings of Shakespeare’s tragic supervillains.
Image: Erin Rickard