In an old prison cell deep beneath the Town Hall, Blood Will Have Blood offers an unusual and spellbinding experience: the chance to write yourself into the story of Macbeth. You’ll play a character familiar from Shakespeare’s tale – though exactly who you are is at first unclear – in a country that’s struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of the tyrant king’s rule. Together with a small group, you’ll enact a well-thought-through and genuinely chilling short play, guided all the time by an immersive narrative relayed to you through headphones.
The voice in your ear tells you a story; a story described in the second person, one where you yourself are the hero. It’s up to you how much you choose to act out what you’re hearing, but I found the suggestions irresistible. When the voice mentioned my roughened hands, I found myself compelled to study them, and when it told me that I’d gone to bed I had to stretch out on the floor. A couple of scenes require your more active participation, and perhaps they push the concept just a touch too far: I realised that I’d missed some of the early scene-setting narrative, because I was too preoccupied with the mechanics of the task I’d just been given to perform.
Soon, an actor joins you in the room. She plays a witch; maybe one of the Three Witches, though that’s never conclusively confirmed. In the close confines of the Old Police Cells every look and every gesture is magnified, and Jamie Birkett delivers a beautifully nuanced performance, balancing a stern and sinister persona with deep compassion at the horror your character has lived through. Cleverly, the witch’s demands are at first mundane – you’ll literally be helping her with household chores – but they soon become more portentous and meaningful, as your identity and your destiny are gradually revealed.
The central mystery, of which character from Macbeth you actually are, is resolved some distance from the end. For a while, I was puzzled by the discovery; there was something about what I was hearing which wasn’t quite consistent with Shakespeare’s plot. But that tension, it turns out, is very much intentional, and points the way towards a masterstroke at the finale. Many immersive works try to catch you out, tempting you into an action your real-life self would abhor; Blood Will Have Blood does something cleverer.
The production undoubtedly has some rough edges, and on the day I attended, a couple of technical glitches conspired to break the spell. But this is still a superbly executed immersive work, combining a well-produced and atmospheric soundtrack with a compelling live performance. What’s more, it adds to Shakespeare’s plot in a way that’s not just respectful, but genuinely deepened my understanding of the original text. A bewitching experience in every sense of the word.