A powerful shot of Shakespeare
The Macbeths Citizens Theatre, Glasgow Until October 14
GLASGOW’S Citizens Theatre has a strong tradition of smaller-scale, studio work. Initiated in 1965 and destroyed by fire in 1973, The Close Theatre Club sat immediately adjacent to the Citz, and offered an often left-field, modernist programme. In 1992, 23 years into his extraordinary 34-year reign as artistic director, Giles Havergal opened two small studio spaces within the Citizens’ building, which allowed the staging of avant-garde work and some exciting new writing.
Current Citz artistic director Dominic Hill plans to replace the studios with a new Close theatre studio as part of the theatre’s forthcoming major renovation. For now, however, he is reviving the spirit of the late Havergal era with The Macbeths, a pungently abridged version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play.
Using a carefully cut version of the text, this two-hander, created by Dominic Hill (director) and Frances Poet (dramaturg), is assiduously modern. Imagine a version of Tracey Emin’s famous 1998 artwork My Bed hosting, not the solipsistic detritus of a supposedly dissolute youth, but a powerful, human drama of loss, ambition and, above all, desire.
Here the Macbeths, Charlene Boyd (Lady M) and Keith Fleming (Macbeth), crash headlong into violent chaos through a haze of cigarette smoke and vodka. The modernisation and domestication of the drama reduces the significance of the witches’ prophecies, putting the greater motivating influence upon the sexual relations between Macbeth and his wife. Boyd’s Lady M urges her husband to regicide with a sharp, forceful argument that brooks no disagreement. However, in this intense, domestic setting, the crux of her persuasiveness is her sexual power over her spouse. Rarely have I encountered a Lady M who appears so menacing when she speaks the crucial words: “When you durst do it, then you were a man;/And, to be more than what you were, you would/ Be so much more the man.”
As the play’s title suggests, these king killers are a double act, joined not only in sexual desire and vaulting ambition, but also in anguish. When Lady M opens a drawer beneath the bed, from which she takes toys that belonged to her child who died in infancy, due heed is paid to her remembrance: “I have given suck, and know/ How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.”
Fleming’s Macbeth is the perfect embodiment of public, militaristic swagger combined with private uncertainty. Sweating like a bull, his sensuality is craving, rather than domineering. In the boudoir, at least, he and his wife are equals.
The bigger political picture of Macbeth’s burgeoning tyranny, complete with speeches by other characters, comes, cleverly, in the shape of surveillance technology which is more 20th-century analogue than contemporary digital. As events undo the minds of, first, Lady M and, then, Macbeth, one wonders whether these are the private interactions of modern murderers (such as the Ceausescus in Romania or the Marcoses in the Philippines), or a bleak, mutual, psychotic fantasy.
Either way, this is Shakespeare’s play delivered in powerfully concentrated form, as if straight into the bloodstream. Cleverly set and superbly acted, it is a reminder of the possibilities of studio theatre at the Citizens.