CAITLIN DOHERTY: It is a tale/ Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing.
Cambridge American Stage Tour
ADC Theatre, 4th-8th October, 7.45pm, £6 – £10
Directed by John Haidar
John Haidar’s production of Macbeth, this week’s ADC mainshow, unleashed a rare and devastating strain of puritanism within me. I wish I could tell you this was because I’d finally been shown a radical restructuring of a canonical work that is so often reduced to pitiable levels of psychodrama. Unfortunately, the root was much simpler, and more depressing: waste.
For the uninitiated, CAST is a stage tour project that gives Cambridge and ARU students the chance to rehearse a Shakespeare play in Cambridge over the summer before taking it on tour across the USA during September. The stakes are high, and so is the budget. Unfortunately, the standard of last night’s performance was not.
The malaise at the heart of the production had a binary structure. I imagine in the mandatory aftershow x-ray it’ll look a bit like a sad, wilted double-helix. The cast, a selection of some of Cambridge’s most experienced and professional student actors, twisted limply between dispassionate deliveries of some of Shakespeare’s most bewitching language, and unchallenged miscomprehension of their lines. That’s not to say that the performers didn’t understand the words they were speaking, but rather that no one on stage seemed to have been directed to have any sense of why their character might speak the words they found coming out of their mouths, or even why they’d be addressing any other character in the play. For a script that hinges, as Haidar himself acknowledges in his programme notes, on the creation of an atmosphere of fear and paranoia, such a lack is fatal.
More basic, still, than the absence of any credible verbal relationship between the characters, was the deficiency in physical status work between the parts. A reading of Macbeth which suggests that the witches are not in fact supernatural creatures, but rather societal exiles that terrify Macbeth through their refusal to acknowledge his position, while gurgling meta-theatrically self-fulfilling prophecies, is fine by me. But the relationship between these three women and Macbeth must develop, at least from his initial feeling of revulsion and scepticism to a disturbed manipulation of his guilt. That much at least is given to a director by the text. Despite best efforts, particularly on the parts of Charlotte Hamblin and Abi Tedder (who also stood out as the Porter) these parts were never afforded the chance to grow into anything more unsettling than an episode of The Tribe.
By contrast to the sense of under rehearsal that pervaded throughout the performances of smaller roles, the leads, played by Nick Ricketts and Victoria Ball, seemed to be have been replaced by animatronic wax models, programmed to robotically demonstrate emotion with precise gestures that left no room for spontaneous creativity, or the communication of madness (usually, it comes across as at least a bit irrational).
In moments such as these, when the acting fell apart, it was hard to believe that this was due to a lack of ability on the part of the performers. Indeed there were moments of brilliance provided by Mateo Oxley as Macduff and Alex MacKeith as Banquo, both of whom mixed a military stoicism with a delicate disappointment and pain at the actions of their new king. Hugh Wyld, as Malcolm, shone in the second half. During a speech that addresses the cost of patriotism, and loyalty to any political cause, Wyld physicalised the contradictions of a man both willing and afraid to give his life for a belief.
This production was a saddening waste of talent, only partially redeemed by the cutting-edge artistic decision to borrow, daringly and very very heavily, from Sam Mendes’ Richard III at the Old Vic, Nick Hytner’s Hamlet at the National and Rupert Goold’s production of Macbeth itself.