No Fringe is complete without at least one Macbeth, usually offering some innovative twist on the Bardic original. Fire Burn’s selling point is that it’s performed by the Three Witches; or more precisely, by three female actors, who start out as the Three Witches but soon switch into other requisite roles. Look beyond that gimmick, though, and it’s actually a very faithful rendition of Shakespeare’s text, albeit one that adds a few stylish tricks to enhance the telling of the tale.
With stark lighting, minimal props and heavy use of a portentous drum-beat, there are plenty of goosebump moments throughout the production. The key figures are creatively portrayed; Macbeth himself is almost wimpish, sobbing incoherently after plunging in the dagger, and throwing a subtly different light on his relationship with his wife. Duncan is strangely camp and a few of the accents are curiously-chosen, but overall it’s a refreshingly uncomplicated take on the characters which still finds some interesting new angles on the text.
With a 95-minute running time, the show also has room to explore the scenes which Fringe productions often abridge or omit. The ending is particularly well-done: more than any other version I’ve seen in recent years, it conveys a sense of Macbeth’s desperation and paranoia as the rebel forces close around him. The fight scenes and assassinations are well-choreographed too, injecting some genuine excitement and dynamism whenever my interest was in danger of flagging.
But on the night I attended, Fire Burn was consistently let down by the delivery of the lines – some of which were almost incomprehensible. The soliloquies were fine, but the more bread-and-butter dialogue was often hard to hear, and occasionally drowned out by the show’s own sound effects. Noise from outside didn’t exactly help – and there might have been a problem or two with the radio mics – but whatever way you look at it, if you can’t hear the words then that’s a problem.
I also wonder whether the delineation of characters is sufficiently clear, at least for viewers who aren’t intimately familiar with the play. With each actor playing multiple roles, and with very few concessions to costume, the characters are signalled primarily using patterns in face-paint. A thick line across the forehead, for example, indicates Macduff. It’s a clever idea, but it’s also a lot for the audience to remember – and at times I only knew who was meant to be who because I recognised the lines they were speaking.
All things considered then, this is a good solid production of Macbeth – and none the worse for that. It feels, though, as if it wants to be something a little more; the founding conceit, that the tale is told through the eyes of the witches, doesn’t actually develop all that far. So there may be room to explore the text a little further… but on the basis of what they’ve already found, I’m excited to imagine what they’ll discover when they do.