Walking into the small, cosy Corpus Playroom, I couldn’t help but ask myself how the director, Verity Clements, would pull off one of the most prolific tragedies of all time. The temptation of adorning such a masterpiece with an overflow of special effects, of staging the play with “bigger means better” in the back of your mind was a temptation well resisted. The stage was set with symbolic black drapes interspersed with ripped, red flags; the effect was simple, but powerful.
Yet Macbeth is not simple. His passion, his madness, his conflicting loyalties and emotions are not simple. In fact, the play as a whole is, cliche as it may be to say, psychologically complex. The sheer simplicity of the costume and the intimacy of the playroom, demanded from the cast impressive and dynamic performances.
Macbeth, played by Lawrence Dunn, was played with conviction but he made the fatal faux pas of correlating moments of tension and passion with the pace of his delivery. His lines were frequently gobbled and although nobody expect perfect iambic pentameter precision, the audience still needs to understand what he says. There were, however, impressive moments of impassioned distress and guilt but they were in fact too frequent. There was no real sense of development to give his performance the credibility and contrast the role requires. One emotion blurred into the next in a hurly burly of wavering passion. For instance, Dunn’s tone of address to the audience in soliloquy was the same he used for dialogue.
The ensemble cast, on the whole, fared much better. The witches set the scene with well choreographed movement, passing through the audience tapping pebbles with sticks to eerie music pre-empting the solemn and disturbing tragedy’s beginning. Hannah Kennedy, in her long, black dress, played a sufficiently icy and domineering Lady Macbeth whose persuasive powers were complimented by a strong stage presence and a mastery of diction and projection. As she circled Macbeth in one scene, pushing him about as she spoke to him, we were given a strong sense of who wore the trousers in this relationship. Macduff (John Haidar), Banquo (Mattin Biglari) and Duncan (Michael Campbell) all had their shining moments. At times, however, they failed to entirely convince us of the emotional impact of the plot. The screaming woman off stage, to create the effect of Macduff’s wife and children’s murder, was a poignant moment and yet Macduff reacted with a confusion of stoicism and tears; something I felt destroy the poignancy of the moment through its ambiguity.
The simple nature of the production wasn’t this show’s ultimate fault. Its lack of an overall sense of progression which would have rendered Macbeth’s fall far more dramatic and his madness far more intriguing was what was missing. There was a simple need for story telling; a need to convince us that the dagger before his eyes wasn’t in fact an everyday occurrence.