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A Fresh Take on Lady Macbeth's Path That Keeps You Guessing

A Fresh Take on Lady Macbeth’s Path That Keeps You Guessing

Imagine if crucial segments of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth had vanished, leading to a new trajectory where Lady Macbeth avoids the clutches of madness. This unique twist forms the foundation of Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris’ production, Macbeth (An Undoing). Initially presented at the Lyceum in Edinburgh, this contemporary reworking of the classic tale is now debuting at The Malthouse Theatre.

Harris is renowned for her ability to rejuvenate timeless works from the Western canon, adding a fresh and inventive spin. In Macbeth (An Undoing), Malthouse Artistic Director Matthew Lutton leads an ensemble cast that fuses the original text with imagined “lost” scenes and re-envisioned story fragments.

Described as an “adrenaline-fueled epic”, the production juxtaposes the grandiose declarations of Shakespeare with modern vernacular and direct asides to the audience, creating a lively and engaging narrative.

The ten actors predominantly navigate Dann Barber’s imposing, monotone set—a labyrinthine structure featuring gunmetal-grey rooms and corridors on a revolving stage. This enables the actors to move through Castle Inverness swiftly or be framed in distinct, lit vignettes. The stereoscopic effect adds a satisfying, artistic dimension, allowing scenes to fade in and out. However, this setup does impose certain spatial constraints, occasionally leading to awkwardly clustered actors in the limited downstage space.

The costumes are simple yet stylish, showcasing muted forest tones that stand out against the monotone set. In a postdramatic nod, the Shakespearean attire gradually deconstructs, revealing modern underwear and the technological equipment used for voice amplification.

Award-winning actor Bojana Novakovic portrays Lady Macbeth with a grounded, daily energy, while Johnny Carr’s Macbeth is equally restrained. Both navigate their roles competently, but their performances lack the physical presence necessary to effectively convey the terror and gravitas of Macbeth’s tale, even in this re-imagined version. The casual, almost soap-opera style of delivery seems like a deliberate directorial choice but feels out of place, diminishing the depth and engagement of their characters.

In contrast, David Woods as a simmering Macduff and Natasha Herbert as Carlin, the sharp-tongued witch/servant, deliver standout performances. Herbert, in particular, embodies the gravitas and physicality that the text demands, making her portrayal both complex and compelling. Woods’ brooding Macduff, suspicious of Macbeth’s regicide of King Duncan, remains imposing even in silent moments, especially in his portrayal of the silent, gum-chewing Murderer.

Despite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, the show maintains a brisk pace. Jethro Woodward’s relentless sound design mixes deep rhythmic drones with textured audio elements, creating a cinematic and immersive auditory experience. The soundscape, complete with bells, grinding tones, knocks, and ghostly fluttering wings, effectively complements the unfolding drama, further enhanced by the fitting post-show choice of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”.

All things considered, the production falls somewhat short of its promise as a radical retelling. The meta-commentary and new path for Lady Macbeth, though intriguing, feel unresolved in execution and tone. The play raises significant questions about control, trust, and resilience in the face of chaos but doesn’t quite deliver satisfactory answers. The stage combat, too, could benefit from refinement to match the intensity of the themes.

Overall, while the monumental themes of power, ambition, and perspective deserved bolder creative choices, the audience on opening night appeared engaged and appreciative of this ambitious exploration of ambition, power, and grief. Perhaps the production will find its stride as the ensemble continues to build cohesion.

Source: various sources