Macbeth is possibly the most famous play by Shakespeare behind Romeo and Juliet, the classic tale of murder and betrayal in the depths of Scotland is so infamous that it’s name is rarely spoken within theatre walls.
While the performers of Arrows & Traps company are not strangers to Shakespeare’s work, having previously staged adaptations of Taming of the Shrew and Titus Andronicus, this marks their first attempt at tackling such a well known work.
The titular Macbeth, played by David Paisley, is an aggressive bear of a man who hides a depth of conscience which serves to torment him throughout the performance. He visibly struggles with his increasingly bloody deeds, yet is determined to stay the course, no matter the cost.
His descent from the bold and swaggering warrior into the increasingly erratic and paranoid king of the later acts is both terrible and beautiful to watch, and Paisley utterly inhabits the character giving the audience no choice but to follow his fall.
As the play reaches it’s climax our unhappy king’s death plays out as a chilling sequence in which Macbeth is met by the shades of those that have died to feed his ambition, while still being slain by Malcolm.
The combination of lighting, sound and Will Pinchin’s movement direction combine to create a hauntingly moving scene, one worth a repeat viewing all on it’s own.
Some say that behind every great man there is a woman, however this incarnation of Lady Macbeth, played by Cornelia Baumann, is both and able to stand shoulder to shoulder with her husband to see their ambitions accomplished.
Her manipulations see her urging Macbeth on to bloodier and bloodier deeds, while trying to maintain some facade of nobility to the wider world.
Baumann’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth does a great deal to humanise one of Shakespeare’s cruellest character, while doing nothing to undermine her ruthless ambitions, and her final descent into madness seems both to great and too little a punishment for her crimes.
McGregor’s take on the witches is enthralling, played by Elle Banstead-Salim, Olivia Stott and Monique Williams, the trio have an almost siren-like allure which is cleverly offset by the insect like welding goggles they are wearing.
No mere meddlers, these hags almost seem to be orchestrating the entire performance, and even when offstage, always seem to be watching from the shadows.
In a similar vein to their run of Taming of the Shrew, the roles of Duncan and Banquo are played
by female actors, with the venerable Jean Apps taking the role of Duncan and Banquo being played by newcomer Becky Black.
What is most striking about this casting decision is almost how clearly it shows that gender makes no difference when it comes to creating engaging characters, as both play their roles superlatively,
Apps every inch the trusting monarch and Black the strong right hand and confidant, both cruelly betrayed by a man they thought they could trust with their lives.
McGregor’s re-imaging Macbeth is a dark, gripping and strangely sympathetic tale, and while there are no drastic alterations to the plot, a few new ideas have been added to make this particular production stand out.
An especially interesting aspect of this adaptation is the portrayal of the witches as the arch manipulators of the piece, not only bewitching Macbeth with their prophecies, but actively involving themselves in the wider plot to ensure that they come to fruition.
Their intervention during Lady Macbeth’s early monologue is particularly intriguing, as they seem to actively answer her pleas to harden her heart for the acts to come.
Alongside their ability to bring both Macbeth and Banquo to their knees when imparting their wisdom suggests a far deeper involvement than other performances would have you believe.
In summary, Arrows & Traps subtle modernisation of Macbeth is an enthralling, dynamic piece of theatre that truly stands equal to any put on by larger, wealthier companies.
Director Ross McGregor ponders in the play’s programme whether we need another performance of Macbeth. Perhaps not, but this performance of Macbeth? Definitely.
Macbeth will run until the 9th of July at the New Wimbledon Studio, Wimbledon.
All images courtesy of Davor Tovarlaza at the Ocular Creative.