Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Medical vibe lends itself well to this gender-swap Macbeth

Medical vibe lends itself well to this gender-swap Macbeth

Macbeth | Reading Minster | Friday, October 25

IT feels very fitting to watch Macbeth at a time of year when our thoughts turn towards the spooky and supernatural, so this is canny programming from Reading Between the Lines.

Directed by Hal Chambers, RBL’s production is action-packed and atmospheric.

The raised stage has the audience in the round and protected from the bloodiest scenes by a set of polythene curtains which are drawn across when things get gory.

These curtains give a cinematic undertone to the action, but are also reminiscent of the curtains around a hospital bed when a patient is in distress.

There is a strong medical vibe in this production, as the expected three weird sisters are amalgamated into a single witch (Lizzie Crarer), who circles the stage mesmerisingly, in white scrubs and pushing a hospital trolley.

As the plot progresses, this witch recruits other beings into her band, notably the ghosts of Banquo (Maanuv Thiara) and Duncan (Jordan Whyte).

Macbeth is a woman (Jessica Baglow) and so, in this interpretation, Lady Macbeth is transposed into Lord Macbeth (Oliver Bennett).

Baglow is convincing as a fierce, warrior-like Macbeth and she is also authentic in her tortured reflections as events begin to run away with her — she delivers her soliloquies with passion and credibility.

The director’s intention with casting was to make the audience ask questions about what he saw as a male-dominated play. Thus King Duncan becomes Queen Duncan and Macduff is also played by a woman (Charlotte Wyatt). For me, this stroke of artistic licence was difficult to absorb, not least because Lady Macbeth’s acidic lines become diluted when voiced by a man.

When Lady Macbeth takes control in a traditional production of this play, the audience is unsettled by her strength of character and unconventional behaviour. But when a man delivers the line “Leave all the rest to me”, as in this production, it comes across, I’m afraid, as unremarkable.

Lady Macbeth famously makes a bold and chilling statement that she would dash out the brains of her suckling baby rather than break her word; articulated by the baby’s father, the threat of violence perhaps takes on a different tone.

That aside, this Macbeth is memorably theatrical. The music and sound from Harry Smith and Joe Morris signify unequivocally that chaos has been unleashed.

Michael Brenkley’s lighting makes for heightened spookiness and stylised movement directed by Sabina Netherclift brings a zombie feel to the action.

I particularly enjoyed the banquet scene when the ghost of the murdered Banquo arrives to unsettle Macbeth; throbbing sound effects ratchet up the tension as Macbeth loses her composure.

Well done to the cast and crew for this ambitious and extraordinary production.

Until November 9.

Susan Creed

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