I reckon I’ve seen over thirty Fringe Macbeths, in Brighton, Edinburgh and beyond. I’ve seen Macbeth on motorbikes; Macbeth in a cave; gender-swapped Macbeth, circus Macbeth, Macbeth where Macbeth himself wasn’t in it at all. So it’s refreshing to discover this well-conceived adaptation, which takes relatively few liberties with plot or milieu but still delivers something striking and new.
As we take our seats in the theatre, we find there are two Weird Sisters already prowling the stage. Mesmerising physical performers, the man and woman are engaged in a sensual power-play; at times supplicant, at times longing, at times severe. It’s a parallel, perhaps, for the tension between the Macbeths that lies at the heart of the play. And all the way through there are equally surprising details, which stay true to a literal telling of Shakespeare’s tale but give it a creative and unexpected spin.
With the script abridged down to the regulation hour, a few iconic passages are sensitively trimmed. Lady Macbeth’s bedchamber scene is short, but powerful; we find the queen on her knees, reaching helplessly out from the stage. Thanks to smart edits like that one – and one bolder, but broadly successful, tweak to the storyline – there’s time for a thoughtful treatment of segments which Fringe productions often skip by. I was struck, for example, by the urgent aftermath to Duncan’s death, when the Macbeths briefly fear their plot has failed and exposure is close at hand.
At a high level, then, the balance is superb. But from line to line, the pacing needs work; some plot points are rushed, while other pauses linger for a couple of beats too long. There’s a frustrating inconsistency to the acting too, and with the very honourable exception of Banquo, nobody quite inhabits their characters 100% of the time. The soliloquies and the big set-pieces all hit the spot, but the more mundane lines – the ones which just advance the story – are often thrown away.
Speaking of Banquo, it’s a good job this is only a four-day run; the startling flourish at the end of his murder scene must surely leave the actor with real-life bruises. It epitomises the commitment of the entire cast – who put their bodies and their souls into a visceral performance, tapping into the marrow of this so-familiar tale. It’s a shame they’ve let a few of the basics slip along the way, but in my endless parade of Fringe Macbeths, this is certainly one of the highlights.