A pow­er­ful shot of Shake­speare

The Mac­beths Ci­ti­zens The­atre, Glas­gow Un­til Oc­to­ber 14

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - THEATRE REVIEW - Re­viewed by Mark Brown

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.

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