“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare

at C Venue, Wednesday 15th August 2012

I never thought I’d be calling a ninety minute production of Macbeth too long, but different circumstances means that As Told By’s production at C Venue feels it runs a lot longer than it should. This Macbeth, performed by a group of young people, contains within it some promising performances but does little with the script and, though promised to be “horrifying”, is extremely tame.

Apparently, the company have decided to set their production in World War Two, but all this entails is a few aeroplane and gunshot noises and soldier uniform; the setting doesn’t infiltrate the world of the characters at all, and does nothing to add to the text, for the way the actors perform suggests they could be performing at any time in history. The only vaguely disconcerting elements of the piece are laughing weird sisters (pronounced “wared” for some reason”) and a bit of blood.

It’s a very plain and conventional staging, with a few too many moments of empty stage and ill-thought-through scene changes. Far too frequently, actors find their way to their mark and stand there without reacting much. More effort has been put into technique than into feeling.

There are some very accomplished performances here, especially from the two leads (though we see very little of their madness), but they wouldn’t look out of place in the 1950s. They are closer in tone to Olivier and Gielgud than Russell Beale and Rylance. This isn’t exactly a bad thing, but one would hope that future actors were being pushed towards modern ways of doing things rather than just speaking the verse well with a glimmer in the eye and a wave of the hand.

With so many productions of Macbeth on at this year’s fringe, As Told By can’t afford to just present a traditional and poorly-cut version of the play and selling it by using words like “innovative”. It’s also a shame that this clearly talented cast haven’t been given a slightly more exciting production to play with instead of creating something which could have easily been created in the twentieth century.

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