Shakespeare's Scottish Play goes digital
MACBETH is obviously a dark play - psychologically, spiritually, in terms of the body count. As the eponymous anti-hero says mid way through 'I am in blood stepp'd in so far that should I wade no more/Returning were as tedious as go o'er...' Big Telly's new version of Shakespeare's 1606 tragedy, rumoured to contain Satanic mass quotations, was clever. It launched the theatrical side of the Belfast International Arts Festival 2020 with panache. In Zoe Seaton's adaptation, it was re-faced with a satirical piece of business at the start referring to the political darkness and Covid19, with a lot of references to the new health and safety rules.
The new regime with the proscenium arch appearing on one's trusty PC meant the actors appeared in their own habitats. They are filmed acting live each evening, which adds a whiff of danger and a sense you're still in the theatre stalls. In terms of Lady Macbeth's flat, I was distracted by Nicky Harley's artwork on the wall saying 's***'. This pretty much summed up her character's tragic trajectory pretty neatly as the woman, initially the main instigator of disaster as she eggs on her man to kill King Duncan and start ascending the greasy pole to kingship. She was convincing, changing from T-shirt to evening dress, but maybe not note perfect in all the harrowing speeches when she realizes her murderous sins and is consumed by guilt.
Dennis Herdman as Macbeth, noticeably English and looking the part, made the ascent pretty well. For my money, the lighter tones and dark humour came across better than the parallel descent into thuggery. For the king loses his moral compass and of course his wife, along the way. It is definitely a tale told by an idiot, so topical in our age.
The witches and ghosts flickered onscreen, a reminder of an age that believed in the supernatural, but also a guide in modern form to the Bard's account of human psychology in a pre-Freudian age. The scene with Banquo's ghost clearly showed Macbeth grappling with the reality of his violent acts.
Tricksy additions such as the inclusion of audience members onscreen as a kind of distant chorus, didn't necessarily add to this chilling drama. But Aoughus Og's Duncan and Lucia McAnespie as Witch 3 were both very powerful and I might have liked to see their account of the main roles.
However this was a good pre-Hallowe'en scary piece directed by Ms Seaton, impressive in its use of technology, and a genuine theatrical experience. In our foul and fair times, that's no mean feat.
* Macbeth is available to view online at 7pm until October 17, with 9.30pm performances too today and on Saturday (belfastinternationalartsfestival.com). Tickets cost £20