Lady Macbeth replaces spiritual invocation with vape exhalationThe Other Richard with permission for Varsity

When going to watch a Shakespeare play, especially one as widely-known as Macbeth, there’s a comfort and familiarity you expect to feel as the lights go down and a woman walks on stage. When that woman turns out to be Lady Macbeth (Laura Elsworthy), vaping, watching a video on her phone of Macbeth (Mike Noble) in the woods Bear-Grills-survival-mode telling her about his promotion, and not one of the three witches, this complacency tends to go slightly out the window.

“A successful way of navigating the supernatural within this supernatural version”

Director Richard Twyman takes Shakespeare’s poetry, adds dialogue to it (with the help of Emma Whipday), and rearranges its structure to create a modernised, yet somewhat awkward, touring version. As previously mentioned, we don’t open with the witches in Twyman’s version. Instead, the witches’ dialogue is embodied by the other performers throughout the play in the form of ambiguous and seance-like possession, and flashbacks, proving a successful way of navigating the supernatural within this technological version.

The most notable advancement within this production is the use of a live camera and ‘CCTV’, with the images projected above the actors on stage for roughly forty percent of the play’s duration. This added an intimacy and depth to the performances that was often otherwise lost. Will Duke ensures this idea is ingrained into the play and not hammered on: the projections begin as a livestream, but become more eerie as what happens on screen starts to diverge from what’s onstage. Pre-recorded video is somehow seamlessly merged with live performance to display Banquo’s ghost (Brian Lonsdale) and Macbeth’s final decision to kill Duncan (Ross Waiton). Though usually these projections add another dynamic point of interest, they do become distracting at times. Scenes such as of Lady Macbeth’s madness feel as though they lose humanity because of the seemingly unnecessary live streaming of what is otherwise a very intimate and vulnerable moment. Additionally, after Macbeth is killed (spoiler! It has been out for around 500 years though), the camera is left on his ‘dead’ body, which becomes jarring as we as an audience can very clearly see him breathing.

“Pre-recorded video is somehow seamlessly merged with live performance”

Though Twyman’s modernisations and alterations are engaging, it does feel like attention to the original dialogue is lost. Speech often felt rushed and numerous audience members I overheard or spoke to mentioned that they didn’t hear much of the text. Most notably, Lady Macbeth, begins the play already panicked, leaving her little space to escalate her, what ended up being, rather one-tone performance. Her descent into madness felt very rushed and, honestly, I was not particularly convinced. Another supposed tragedy I felt impartial to was the death of Macduff’s family due to the constantly small performance of Guy Rhyse, playing Macduff. It seems all of the space and time that could have been taken within the delivery of the text was used up by long drawn-out non-verbal scenes, which usually create a nice dynamic pacing, but in this become jarring due to the rushed speech.

The movement, directed by Elinor Randle, is fluid throughout, however. The scene changes and transitions into asides and soliloquies became a highlight for me; they are detailed, character-focused and progress the plot themselves.

Mike Noble’s performance as Macbeth is a stand out for me. His delivery of the line “O full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife” manages to encapsulate terror, guilt and dominance simultaneously, and he chooses to portray Macbeth at the end in a way I have never seen before. It’s difficult to explain what he does here, but if you imagine an under 14s boxing coach having a midlife-crisis, trying to cover up the fact that he is having one, but also simultaneously using his insecurity to try to embarrass those around him? That’s what his Act 5 performance is like. And it works! The battle scene becomes an almost-monologue for him and Noble does a great job at navigating this. He directs some of it to the audience, nonchalantly justifying the murder of a child with a smile. At points it becomes almost comical, which can be slightly jarring, but overall his overt misplacement of morality feels eerily shared with the audience. Consistent with the rest of the play, it’s worth mentioning that the “tomorrow” monologue felt very rushed; this was obviously a creative choice from Mike Noble, however it’s a risk I’m not sure pays off.

“His overt misplacement of morality feels eerily shared with the audience”

Something that does pay off is the attention to detail in Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s relationship. Twyman clearly understands their relationship and makes numerous additions to flesh it out, such as an attempt to focus on their lost child through constant references to breast milk. The complexity of their partnership is encapsulated beautifully in an added scene of late-night dancing together in which the two actors’ faces say more than any of the text is allowed to in this production.

The highlight though, for me and many others, was the porter scene, which is taken on by the character Ross (Leo Wan) in this version. He chats to the audience, provides a much needed subtle comic relief from the otherwise overly-tense main plot, and masterfully navigates this often convoluted monologue. I would watch an extended version of just his monologue!


Mountain View

Gaslight, girlboss, go and see

If you’re a Macbeth fan, this production is worth a watch, if only to see how moving scenes around and altering characters plays out. However, if you’re looking for a theatrical night out, the steep ticket prices mean I’d have to advise you to go elsewhere and experience a more grounded story. Though Twyman and his team introduce numerous interesting ideas, many of them feel slightly underutilised or not completely thought through, often distracting from the humanity within the original text. It seems Macbeth’s midlife crisis isn’t confined to his character, but spreads to the play as a whole.

Macbeth is showing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre from 8-11th November.