Along with elegant poetry, gripping prose, and the grounds on which to found great performances, the freedom of adaptation is one of the greatest gifts in Shakespeare’s plays. An adept adaptor, the Bard worked historical chronicles and the King’s writings on Daemonologie into one of his bloodiest and bleakest works, but Macbeth is rich in dramatic ambition. With witches, wars and natural order overturned, it invites new interpretation of what drives a worthy thane to kill a king – witches, his wife, free will? – and director Kit Monkman’s production is an experiment not only in motive, but filmic form.
‘Nothing is but what is not’ notes the newly crowned Thane of Cawdor as the prophecy that has also promised him kinghood takes hold, and Monkman has taken this as his muse. For Macbeth, the unbelievable is to be believed, and for Monkman, the unimaginable is to be imagined. With a Game of Thrones-come-video game aesthetic, and Kimie Nakano’s costumes an amalgamation of leather, crimson, and feathers, the camera roams freely and omnipotently through a chroma-key computer-generated creation to occasional chords and choral voices. The architectural draughts are still etched into the design, as though the creation is still a draft, perhaps an echo of our protagonist’s failure to imagine the tragic outcome of the prophecy, or, more accurately, his actions.In this spherical, skull-like space, prophecy’s place is usurped by psychology, and the supernatural has little part to play; this Macbeth is unambiguous and thus abridged, with liberal edits to the Bard’s text, and whilst the witches are abbreviated to one witch and mostly in voiceover, there are moments where it lets Monkman’s vision bloom. Moving Macbeth’s ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ lament over his wife’s death to the moment of his own demise, it makes his own life – and death – devoid of meaning, only ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.
Mark Rowley’s Macbeth is a crisis both of unchecked ambition and masculinity; his brotherly bravado with Al Weaver’s brilliantly boorish Banquo becomes hot-blooded virility in bed and volatile abrasiveness in public. The performance is at its most powerful at its most filmic, when the intimacies of cinema ‘unsex’ him of his masculinities in his soliloquys with unmoving close-ups, a framing echoed when his wife – a haughty but hungering Akiya Henry – falls victim to her feminine wiles, and it’s her imagination that finally wrecks her.
This Macbeth is as ambitious as the Macbeths, and though a liberal abridgement, it’s an adaptation the Bard’s text allows for, with its brilliantly bloody drama danced on a singularly psychological stage.
Macbeth is available on Digital Download from 23 April 2018