Review: Tobacco Factory Theatres’ Macbeth

Browse By

Murder, superstition, regicide, and revenge. For a play that is among the most produced of Shakespeare’s scripts, a production of Macbeth must be both unique and memorable to be a success. In this adaptation by Tobacco Factory Theatres, which was in the round, this was achieved through the extravagant use of lighting and sound which pounded the audience, as well as in its setting, with WWI-inspired battledress and civilian costume. Why this choice was made is never fully explained, as the location remains true to the original Scotland and England, and the programme suggests that it only serves to make the play more relevant.

This adaptation is arguably directed more to audiences who are familiar with the text, as some scenes have been changed, re-imagined, or even translated into Gaelic, which while spectacular and intriguing, lead to some confusion. The innovative adaptation of scenes, as well as the inclusion of Lady MacDuff, a character occasionally excluded from other productions, gives a new dynamic to each of the characters, and the tension at the banquet where Banquo makes one of the most memorable appearances in dramatic history is palpable.

Almost immediately, the audience is immersed in the action, and the set design helps to pull you into the play. Upon walking into the theatre, any spectator looks around in amazement at the gig-like use of colour, seconds before doing a double take over the volcanic floor (which on closer inspection is revealed to be shredded rubber). Full credit must be given to Anisha Fields, Max Pappenheim and Matthew Graham for the set, lighting, and sound design respectively. The traditional lighting rig is used to maximum effect, with a lit cube providing an ethereal presence for the witches. And then there’s the blood, used sparingly compared to other recent productions, it is, however, undeniably effective. The head of the king is certainly a sight to behold, made grotesque through cellophane and gore.

For an inaugural production by Tobacco Factory Theatres` new resident professional ensemble, the Factory Company, the adaptation is commendable. The stage presence of the actors was breath-taking. Appearing from behind the audience, through several entrances and down the stairs, they fully immersed the audience in the action. Jonathan McGuinness’ Macbeth transitions from morally questionable to downright irredeemable in style, bringing to life the tormented ruler fallen from grace. However, the mesmerizingly twisted portrayal of Lady Macbeth by Katy Stephens is what arguably moves both the audience and the plot.

This production of Macbeth, while an awkward merger between a psychological thriller and a traditional performance, with the witches more reminiscent of The Ring than fortune tellers, is overall a powerful portrayal of the fallen nobleman and his possibly justified end. The acting was believable, the direction commendable, and the use of the venue exemplary. Should the viewer be new to Shakespeare, then there are other productions more accessible as an introduction. Should the viewer be familiar with the plot and itching to see a new interpretation, then this production is most definitely recommended.