Halloween season is always the ideal time to stage Macbeth, in all its gruesome and ghostly glory, and the newest production at the ADC is no exception. Giddy with the excitement of live theatre after months of closure, I settled in for an evening of spooky, spectacular entertainment.
Director Seb Brindle sets his production against ‘the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Scotland’, and, in the hellscape of our current political and environmental climate, it is apt. There is a distinctly minimalist and monochrome aesthetic: the stage is a simple, bleak building, and the cast are dressed in shades of brown and black – modern with a hint of military. Props are sparse, giving gravitas to the bloodied daggers and the flimsiness of the crown, while the smoke and darkness places us in unknown and unstable territory.
The show is driven by its talented central couple. William Batty as Macbeth exemplified impressive versatility, from his sheer terror in the opening scenes to his arrogance as a blood-thirsty king. He spoke with eloquence and sincerity, his soliloquies being some of the show’s best moments. Gaia Mondadori performed a phenomenal Lady Macbeth, grasping the audience from her first entrance. Her intensity and visceral emotion, conveyed best in her anger towards her husband, was thrilling, and meticulous signs of neurosis throughout prepared for a convincing descent into madness. Mondadori’s ‘Out, Damned Spot’ monologue was as gripping as it was heart-breaking, seeming straight from the deranged mind.
It was only between this couple that one remembered social distancing. It felt painful that they could not come closer, hold one another, or shake each other to their senses. Brindle cleverly utilised this physical barrier to exacerbate the characters’ isolation, depicting a helpless, solitary landscape in which Macbeth is grasping, literally and figuratively, for a safety he cannot have.
My central critique is one often found with apocalyptic productions of Shakespeare, in that striving to unsettle the audience is often more frustrating than interesting. There was an unfortunate lack of cohesion, best demonstrated in the witches. Initially presented only as silhouettes through the windows above, I loved their image as airy, insubstantial, unknowable figures, separated physically and spiritually from our Scotland. I was disappointed, then, when they were brought onto stage in the second act, no longer figments but corporeal, disturbing yet human. The witches initially showed great promise as a daring portrayal of the supernatural, but it was let down by this conceptual inconsistency.
Similarly, the use disjointed music was clearly meant to evoke the play’s timeless setting, though it felt mostly jarring without reward. Individually the pieces were appropriate, and the build up in modernity also built up tension, but the climatic final scene felt like a misplaced movie scene. What the performance provided in suspense, it lacked in cohesion, making it feel uncertain and occasionally underwhelming.
Ultimately, publicity for the ADC’s Macbeth promised a cutting edge that it did not quite live up to, the overriding beigey haze dulling the production’s sharpness. However, this production demonstrates exemplary talent in Shakespearean acting, and the set’s minimalism allows you to fully appreciate the intricacies of the play’s language, and the power of its cast. Through their palpable energy and emotion, it is the cast who sell this unique production, for which they should be extremely proud.