Following on from their Titus Andronicus in October Last year, theatre company Arrows & Traps have now added a Macbeth adaptation to their Shakespeare canon. While at times the action can become awkward and un-engaging, there are some very strong performances, interesting character developments, and scary horror elements throughout.
The play begins with a prophecy: Macbeth (David Paisley) and Banquo (Becky Black) come across three witches who predict that Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor and then eventually the king of Scotland, and that Banquo will father kings. When Queen Duncan (Jean Apps) promotes Macbeth to Thane, he starts to believe in the prophecies. His wife Lady Macbeth (Cornelia Baumann) convinces him to kill the Queen in order to fulfil the second prediction. Once the deed is done, the Queen’s sons flee the country, leaving Macbeth to assume the throne. And once the second prophecy becomes true, his obsessions with the prophecies leads to bloodshed and his eventual downfall.
Director Ross McGregor focuses on the supernatural in the opening of the production, and this theme continues throughout. The dead soldier in the beginning of the play is on display as the audience walk into the space, covered in a bloody sheet. It evokes Frankenstein’s monster, heightening the play’s horror features, and in fact the scene itself resembles the start of Rupert Goold’s film adaptation. McGregor does well in producing a horror atmosphere in the auditorium, especially during the scene with the apparitions, where a blood covered Banquo seems to appear out of nowhere. While Elle Banstead-Salim, Olivia Stott and Monique Williams give powerful performances as witches, their singing destroys the allusion of their supernatural appearance. The two songs d0not fit well into the action, and felt uncomfortable to watch, especially as the music overpowered the singing, making the lyrics unintelligible.
However the redeeming elements of the play are the fascinating character and casting choices, which opens up a new understanding of dynamics in the play. McGregor chooses to highlight the emotional toll Lady Macbeth’s dead child has on her. During her speech convincing Macbeth to commit the murder, her description of her child is evocative and powerful, but it doesn’t seem to impact Macbeth at all. Baumann presents a very strong Lady Macbeth, and her affectionate portrayal makes her breakdown at the end of the play all the more tragic. Hers was a perfect performance.
Equally, McGregor’s choice to present a female Banquo brings to light unexplored relationships within the play. Black brilliantly portrays a young and energetic Banquo, which mirrors Lady Macbeth, but also contrasts her childlessness. The loss of their child does not appear to impact Macbeth until he witnesses Banquo and Fleance together- a strong mother figure with a son who is destined for greatness according to the prophecy. Therefore the murder of Queen Duncan, then Banquo, then Lady Macduff appears to be an attempt to kill all the mother figures in the play, a seemingly romantic gesture on Macbeth’s part in order to build his relationship with his wife again. But by this point, the tragedy of the loss of her child, alongside the guilt of the murders, leads to Lady Macbeth’s own death. Ultimately, McGregor re-imagines Macbeth as a ‘love story’ (his own words), albeit a tragic one.
It is true that there may be other, more engaging adaptations of Macbeth currently in London, with better production value. But McGregor’s character development and choice of including more female characters highlights unexplored layers of depth in Macbeth. For an interesting exploration of motherhood and a different relationship between the title character and his wife, Arrows & Traps’ Macbeth is worth the watch.
Macbeth is at New Wimbledon Studio until 9th July.