At the heart of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is the enterprising relationship between Lady Macbeth and her husband. Perhaps one of Shakespeare’s darker history plays, Volcano Theatre Company explores how deep the darkness can go in this partnership. This production has an 18-year-old history and enjoyed great critical success internationally and has been banned in places closer to home. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most widely performed plays – it has been done to death (pardon the pun). Macbeth: Director’s Cut, however, is still refreshingly experimental and imaginative.
For those that do not know the story of Macbeth: following a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will become King of Scotland, the brave general Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, are compelled to make it happen – the murdering and psychological breakdowns ensue.
As the audience walk in we are greeted by a woman (Mairi Phillips) scattering, what appears to be, rock salt on the edge of the stage – perhaps to ward of some witches? Also onstage is a man (Alex Harries) messing around with a travel hotplate as he intermittently eyes the woman. As soon as the audience sits this subdued setting turns to manic physical action and wild music. The tone is now set for the evening; in its intensity; physicality; sexuality.
Mairi Phillips and Alex Harries play every character in this stripped down version of the original play; however, it is clear that even when they speak the words of the supporting roles they are at all times very much embodying their title characters – the Macbeths. This device adds an intriguing psychological layer – a hint, perhaps, that all the drama is all in their heads.
The soundscape and lighting design (Ben Stimpson) add to the manic nature of the world that is presented. This, along with the set (Tina Torbey), are used in symbiosis with the physical action of the actors making for the fast pace nature of the show. This provides a wonderful backdrop for the dark undertones of violence and sexuality to play out.
It is difficult to write about the two actors separately as it was their interaction that gave the production its context and sense. What I mean by this is that whenever we have a state of paranoia it is between them; whenever we have violence it is between them; whenever we have comedy it is between them. Whatever we have it is always between the two.
Phillips’ Lady Macbeth is playful, but so is Harries’ Macbeth. Both were exceptional physical performers, both were emotive and emotional. It is fair to say that it is the best duologue I have seen this year.
This was incredibly choreographed by Catherine Bennett and directed by Paul Davies (incidentally the first Macbeth of this production back in 1999) hitting the various contexts of the play spot on – the pain, the guilt, the ambition etc are all so potent in this regard.
This production is exceptional – see it
UK tour runs until November 26th, for details see http://www.volcanotheatre.co.uk/whats-on/macbeth-directors-cut
Images: Erin Rickard