Macbeth, Big Telly Theatre (Streamed Broadcast) – Review

Putting on a Shakespeare production is ambitious at the best of times, but what about with only five members of cast who are at different ends of the British Isles? Big Telly Theatre’s production of Macbeth can probably be best described as a curio – hard to pigenhole, but has elements that are commendable or that at least takes risks. From the off, the theatre company eschews any pretence of performing the play in a naturalistic way. Instead, each scene is approached in a different fashion, with either projections, close-ups or pre-recorded film footage.

Aonghus Og McAnally as King Duncan

As an immersive show, viewers watching the production may find themselves on screen as one of the guests in Macbeth’s court. In the case of Macbeth revisiting the witches, there is a meta-dimension to its execution, with the actors playing ‘stage crew’ and ‘actors’ in a ‘theatre’. Bookending the play is a scenario familiar to anyone who has been watching the news the past year – the weekly government Coronavirus updates, replete with three podiums for the main speaker and ‘experts’. On this occasion, the experts warn the audience about witchcraft and who are vulnerable to its effects…

Dharmesh Patel as one the witches in this meta-theatrical adaptation

While the ‘bleak’, early scenes of the play are in ‘black & white’, the shift to colour later on allows hues to denote emotional qualities of the characters. In the case of Macbeth (Dennis Herdman), the red-tinged sepia becomes his signature look and during the scenes of intense emotions, the colour is much more vivid.

Dennis Herdman as Macbeth

For my tastes, the most potent scenes are the ones that are not reliant on projected backgrounds, that automatically draw the eye away from the acting. In the case of Lady Macbeth (Nicky Harley), we are often see her in real, modern surroundings, while on other occasions the camera takes on the POV of characters. As for the untimely end of Lady Macduff (Lucia McAnespie) which traditionally takes place offstage, it’s unsettling at the best of times. To generate a similar sense of dread in this production, director Zoe Seaton has hit upon how it would relate to one of the fears of the 21st century – home invasion…

Lucia McAnespie as Lady Macduff. When a stranger calls…

When the show features Macbeth’s “Life …is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing” speech (which incidently is my favourite part in this production) instead of just having Herdman say his lines to the camera, the scene is juxtaposed with Lady Macbeth walking out to sea – surrendering her will to live with the ebb-and-flow of the tide. It’s an inventive and economic way of creating synergy in different parts of the text with two separate characters.

Nicky Harley as Lady Macbeth. “Life …is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing.”

With scenarios like this, one wonders if Seaton will get around to tackling the play as a whole in this fashion in the future, capitalising entirely on the strengths of real locations and filmmaking techniques.

© Michael Davis 2020

Nicky Harley – Lady Macbeth
Dennis Herdman – Macbeth
Aonghus Og McAnally – Witch, King Duncan, Macduff
Lucia McAnespie – Witch, Lady Macduff, Malcolm
Dharmesh Patel – Witch/Banquo

This production can be watched online from 14 – 17 October at the Belfast International Arts Festival – Wed – Sat 7pm (Fri & Sat additional 9.30pm show)

17– 31 Oct – online at Creation Theatre. For detailed showtimes go to Box office – 01865 766266

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