Before the lights have even dimmed at Macbeth, you’re in for a show. A woman clad in a skirt the colour of earth shuffles and deals her deck of tarot cards, seemingly oblivious to the high table set with flickering candles that lurks behind her. At some point, another figure wanders in, playing with his cat’s cradle. A seemingly indeterminable amount of time later we get a third – childlike in her white flowing dress and clutching a raggedy doll. The tarot reader looks up and, as if in a trance, rings a bell. For a second, silence falls. Then chaos reigns.
Directed by Freddie Lawson, the opening ten minutes of Macbeth are a masterclass in dramatic blocking. Figures marionette across the stage, screaming and crying, then freeze as they’re manipulating by cacking, chanting witches (Marcus Judd has a particularly spine-tingling manic grin). When the action finally resumes, the actors fall onto carefully placed swords or run screaming in terror from the nightmarish scenes before them: a chilling setup to a production whose strength lies in the physical horror of moments such as these. It is a pity that such dramatic blocking isn’t utilised more throughout the production, as without it the play can quickly slide back into the monotony of monologue after monologue.
Such speeches are mainly delivered by Aubrey McCance’s Macbeth, although plenty of other actors also have their turn — Banquo (Emily Christaki) and Macduff (Matthew McCaffery) especially. These can be perfectly fine in small doses, but the audience’s attention can start to waver when the soliloquies begin to pile up, especially when the blocking is little more than the actors standing in a spotlight. It doesn’t help that most of these solliloquies do little to advance the plot of the play along, especially when the actors are saddled with so many that lines and emotion are gradually lost. An astounding opening with inventive blocking is an inevitably tough act to follow, and it would have been far more effective to select a few monologues and spend time crafting them to ensure their power. Dialogues aren’t spared either: while the Weird Sisters are delightfully macabre, the other actors do little more than stand around listlessly as conversations between characters proceed. The most memorable moments of this production of Macbeth are easily the ones that foreground the supernatural, with the appearance of Banquo’s ghost at the banquet dinner eliciting audible gasps from the audience: on this occasion the blocking was creative, and both the actors and audience clearly relished it. Similarly standout are Lady Macbeth (Isy Platt)’s final scenes as she descends into madness; her ‘out, damned spot’ monologue is easily the best in the show, helped (as always) by the appearance of the witches and Platt’s sheer talent.
Despite the hit-and-miss nature of the delivery and blocking, the backdrop the actor have to perform on is stunning, a true visual feast. The sides of the set bring to mind a psychic’s sitting room, while the central dining table is a suitably imposing stage for dramatic scenes. Even more standout are the costumes: the actors are bedecked in what can only be described as a mix of woodsy and futuristic: ‘like St Andrews style turned up to 100,’ remarked one nearby audience member, or ‘yassified chimney sweeps,’ according to my all-time-favourite Overheard St Andrews post. The effect is suitably eerie and makes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s sleek black outfits all the more imposing; meanwhile, Macduff dons a dark leather jacket to represent the rebel rising up against the old establishment – it’s a very nice and well thought-out touch from the production’s costume designer. The two lead’s crowns are stunning pieces of design—brilliant metal spokes extend from their heads in a manner that resembles a collection of knives rather than gilded jewels. You can’t take your eyes off them, and it makes the ultimate removal of the ill-omened headgear all the more noticeable and impactful.
Macbeth ends as it began, with a puppeteering from the witches and a rerun of the play’s ominous opening lines as a new king takes the throne. Unfortunately, the sentiment of the audience as they trickled out was that the play needed more of those marionettes: more examples of creative blocking, and fewer dry speeches. With such standout marketing from the production’s publicity team – which centred on a distinctly occult theme including hiding tarot cards across town as free tickets, and pre-show fortune telling courtesy of the witches – expectations for this production were very high.When Macbeth shines, it truly glows (a glow that is truly supernatural – it relies on those witches); unfortunately, the production is let down when such invisible strings are cut.