Macbeth (an undoing)

Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

Neil Cooper


“The play is cursed I understand that now” says Lady Macbeth in the second act of Zinnie Harris’ new take on Shakespeare’s Scottish play, which breaks its dramatic straitjacket to unleash hitherto untapped forces. As Liz Kettle’s shape shifting Carlin says in her scene-setting prologue, however, “the story will be told, the way it has always been told”.

This is certainly the case in the first half of Harris’ own production, played out on Tom Piper’s expansive warehouse like set. The prophecy of Macbeth’s ascension to the throne and the bloody murder concocted in collusion with his wife before its ensuing descent into chaos are all pretty much intact. In this way, Carlin’s promise doesn’t so much ring twice as come knock-knock-knocking like some telltale heart of inevitable doom.

There are shifts, however, in a 1930s Jazz Age-tinged rendition that sees Nicole Cooper’s Lady Macbeth wearing very tweedy trousers prior to Adam Best’s Macbeth return home from the war. Amidst the swish of party glamour, Jade Ogugua’s pregnant Lady Macduff is a constant reminder of Lady Macbeth’s childlessness. Lady Macduff nevertheless flaunts her drunken dalliance with James Robinson’s Banquo, while Star Penders’ hapless Malcolm is a puking brat with all the sulky social skills of Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry. At the centre of all this, Lady Macbeth’s dominance over her husband suggests Best’s Macbeth is punching well above his weight.

It is the second act, however, where Harris fully explodes the original play into a manic metaverse, as Lady M attempts to author her own fate and break out of the metaphorical glass ceiling her original creator has imposed on her. Cooper conveys all this with a ferocious intelligence that brims with barely restrained rage amongst the everyday madness in a thrilling reimagining that lays bare the real power behind the blood- spattered throne.