‘Life … is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’ Shakespeare writes in Macbeth. Castle Theatre Company’s production of the play was intriguing but felt somewhat flat, and fails to live up to the excitement of its source material. Despite a beautiful setting and some good acting, for those unfamiliar with the text especially, this two-hour play may feel a whole lot longer.
The well-known story revolves around the ambitions and plotting of the titular character, spurred on by his wife, Lady Macbeth. As their respective guilt overtakes them, we watch a descent into madness and a fall from sanity, love and power. Ultimately, the production team clearly tried to present a ‘respectful’ version of Shakespeare’s text, but the lack of risk made it feel far safe too safe, and it consequently lacked much of the novelty one has come to expect of Shakespeare retellings.
Laura Hepworth, the director, promised a “good balance between the old and the new, the classic and the traditional, and the expected and unexpected.” Traditional yes, but unexpected? Not so much. Placing the play firmly in eleventh century Scotland—the true time and place of the real Scottish king Macbeth and his contemporaries—is hardly exciting. But while I’m not convinced that placing the play in its original context was at all innovative, there were benefits of a historicist approach. The horror felt by medieval men at meeting supernatural beings, whether it be witches or ghosts, was far more realistic than if the play were set today, where the otherworldly is considered nothing but an unrealistic fantasy.
The setting, Tunstall Chapel, was not only visually stunning but also effective insofar as it crammed the audience into a claustrophobic interior space. Its grandness helped convey power, religion, extravagance and reverence – all of which are highly relevant to the text – and made Macbeth’s fall feel all the more real. The costumes and makeup were a visual treat, and I especially enjoyed the styling of three witches – in their floor-length gowns and waist-length hair, they looked suitably frightening and ethereal.
There were significant triumphs. I was stunned by the performances of Nicholas Denton (Macbeth), Kesia Schofield (Lady Macbeth) and Hal Lockwood (Macduff) in the leading roles. Schofield’s portrayal was eerie, convincing and chilling, and was thus effective in explaining her control over her husband’s actions, and ability to lead him to murder when he faltered. Denton and Lockwood, I thought, were able to convey extraordinarily nuanced emotions without saying a word. To convey Macbeth’s introverted vulnerability but always to be effortlessly strong and menacing is no mean feat – nor is it to reconcile the frequent outbursts of anger and crazed resentment as he reinforces his usurper’s position with a generally sympathetic portrayal. Alex Ottie (Seyton) was comedy gold and elicited plenty of laughs. Nuanced and charismatic, Ginny Leigh as Duncan and Malcolm was also a highlight.
As a play that is heavily concerned with the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake, it would have been nice to see the director’s try to draw more parallels to modern life. Shakespeare’s work was novel at its initial time of production, and while there were undoubted strengths to this retelling, it ultimately failed to achieve that quality of ‘liveness’ for a 21st-century audience. Had this production been aligned with modern issues concerning power and politics, it might have felt less stale.
‘Macbeth’ will be performed in Tunstall Chapel, Castle College from Saturday, 29th April to Monday, 1st May at 20:00. Book your tickets here.
Photograph: Castle Theatre Company