The Macbeth Inquiry

16/08/22

The Space at Niddry Street, Edinburgh

We’ve seen a few of Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company’s productions over the years, and we’ve always been impressed. We’re interested to see what happens when they get “Shakesperimental” with this contemporary reimagining of Macbeth as a politician, only metaphorically stabbing PM Duncan in the back.

It’s a nice idea, and the blending of Shakespeare’s script with the current vernacular is – for the most part – convincingly done by the three writers (Izzy Salt, Clara Wessely and Freddie Stone). Ted Ackery’s Paxman-like news reporter is an interesting addition. Ackery is a strong actor (he excelled as Joe in Miller’s All My Sons, which we saw earlier this year), and this shows in the blistering exchanges he has with the various ministers who dare to be interviewed by him. I’m less convinced, however, by the comic exchanges between him and weather reporter, Claudius (Rorke Wilson), which derail rather than enhance the production. Wilson performs well, but these moments seem to come from another play, and I feel like I’m watching a series of in-jokes that probably seemed hilarious in rehearsal, but don’t really fly on stage. I don’t get it. Is Claudius supposed to be funny just because he’s camp? It seems somewhat regressive, if so.

Maddy Brown’s trouser-suited, city-slicker version of Lady Macbeth is perhaps the standout performance here, her vaunting ambition dismayingly credible – but the characterisations are all good. Archie Turnbull (as Macbeth) delivers some key speeches with real gravitas, commanding the audience in a way that makes us believe the people might just vote for him.

I’m not mad about the frequent blackouts, used to mark the ending of each scene. It doesn’t help that today’s audience decides to applaud whenever the lights go down, as if every section were a mini-play. It’s a bizarre response, and not one I’ve seen before in all the hundreds of times I’ve been to the theatre. The blackouts make the action seem a little stilted, and I think the flow would be much improved by more imaginative transitions.

All in all, while there’s much to admire here, The Macbeth Inquiry just doesn’t quite work for me. Still, I applaud EUSC for giving this a go. At least they haven’t lost “the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt”.

2.7 stars

Susan Singfield

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