NANCY NAPPER CANTER urges you to see a Macbeth that avoids any sense of déjà vu.
Corpus Playroom, 7pm, Tuesday 9th – Saturday 14th
Dir. Tom Adams
It all makes sense. Every interpretation in this production makes sense. That doesn’t often happen.
Let’s start with the maids. This Macbeth is set in Edwardian Britain, where maids are essential to the running of the household. They’re the ones who tidy away Lady Macbeth’s dolls, for example. But they’re also secretly sinister. They’re the witches, see? Think about it. It’s a terrifying idea. These witches know everything: they’re at the heart of everything.
And – as we can tell from a series of pointedly lingering glances – the other characters have an inkling, but no more. The resulting tension is superb. At one point, as two of them close in from either side of him, Macbeth looks left, looks right, and then looks left again. He’s vaguely panicked. So was I.
The characterisations consistently avoid the hackneyed. James Parris’ Macbeth is, from the beginning, disturbed. Uneasy. The combination of his slightly upper class hesitancy and the beauty of the rhetoric makes him sound like an insecure but eloquent politician: trying to convince himself as much his listeners that it’s going to be ok.
But he also manages a nicely jovial, matey moment when he taps Banquo (Paul Adeyefa) on the shoulder. And his stiff response of ‘I… I think not of them’ when the subject of the witches is raised, provokes an unexpected laugh.
Equally impressive is Laura Batey’s Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is often played as confident and strong; like the man she wants Macbeth to be. But Batey’s fiendish queen is quiet, pensive; childlike in her wide-eyed intensity. She delivers the ‘Come, you spirits’ speech slowly – as if on the edge of a nervous breakdown, or in a trance.
And though she speeds up as she gains conviction, the unexpected entrance of Macbeth as she cries, ‘Hold! Hold!’ makes her shrink with unease. Moments like these make their later passion fantastically exciting, and troubling – particularly that first kiss, during which Macbeth clasps her face in his filthy-witness-stained hands. Shudder.
My only criticism is that the technical effects are overplayed. The ticking clock is excellently eerie, yes. But the things that go bump in the night occasionally bump a little too loudly; the drum-beat is sometimes intrusive. But this detracts little from a production so superbly acted and directed. The forced grins of both Macbeths as they greet MacDuff – excellently played by Oskar McCarthy – nicely communicate the contrast between inward and outward, pictures and reality, upstairs and downstairs, that this production sets out to convey.
It succeeds. And it’s also fantastically chilling – Lady Macbeth’s shrieking as she rummages in a chest full of dolls in the madness scene is just horrible. It made me shiver. Literally. How often does a play that’s meant to make you shiver actually succeed?