Monday, May 02, 2011

Theatre Review : Macbeth - Clerkenwell House of Detention (dir Alexandre Wright 28/4/11)

The audience is led through darkened passages past the injured Captain declaiming his praise of Macbeth to a shadowy underground hall where three ghastly, blood-soaked apparitions meet Macbeth and Banquo. The action moves swiftly through the arched chambers as the audience follows, breaking up and reforming like a small flock of starlings as it seeks vantage points. Noises are heard off and some head off in pursuit, but then Macbeth appears, acknowledging the witches' prophesy, and the audience recoalesces around him.

The play is set in the damp and darkened vaults of the Clerkenwell House of Detention, formerly a prison dating back to the seventeenth century. This is the perfect venue for Macbeth, a dark and claustrophobic play, remarkably intimate considering it deals with the affars of Kings. After the opening scenes the witches are lurking in every shadow determining the action of the play, their spirit summoned by the haunting motif that announces their presence. Characters metamorphose from behind pillars and passageways and from within the audience, the darkness and movement conspiring to allow the play to be performed with a remarkable four actors only.

Dominic Allen was the one constant, Macbeth with an evil presence and a sarcastic smile. He was possibly too conscious of the necessity of keeping the up the pace of the production as his lines were delivered slightly too quickly to allow easy comprehension in a difficult space with the shifting audience. He should have followed the lead of James Wilkes' Lady Macbeth, whose pace and delivery was, to my mind, perfect. Wilkes and the other cast members metamorphose easily from one character to another with blood and shadows. The cleverly cut and rearranged text telescopes the action into a mere ninety minutes (farewell to the Porter and to a large part of the interminable scene with Duncan and MacDuff in England). The effect is not to uncover previously unexpored aspects of the play, but to heighten and sharpen the theatrical experience.

The success of companies such as Punchdrunk have made these types of production very popular. They don't always succeed as there is a necessary compromise between comprehensibility, directorial intential and immersive experience. This is as much about the audience's overall experience as the play itself. However Belt Up Theatre succeeded in keeping a young audience largely engrossed and terrified in equal measure in this atmospheric and intelligent production.

No comments: