Low-Key Macbeth Full Of Sound But Lacks Fury

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 39 months ago
Low-Key Macbeth Full Of Sound But Lacks Fury ★★☆☆☆ 2

Filter Theatre's Macbeth. Image by Farrow Creative.

Londonist Rating: ★★☆☆☆

The third VAULT Festival, held in the dimly lit, brick-lined, labyrinthine tunnels below Waterloo station, is a splendidly atmospheric setting for Shakespeare’s supernatural thriller Macbeth. And Filter, a company celebrated for breathing fresh life into classic texts such as Twelfth Night and Three Sisters — particularly with their innovations in sound — certainly give the play a spooky resonance. But their minimalist approach fails to penetrate the heart of darkness in this story of ambition, power, guilt and isolation that ends up feeling rather one-dimensional.

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, going straight for the jugular with swift intensity, but Filter have stripped it down to a mere 75 minutes, losing some of its psychological depth. Moreover, due to cuts to the text and the production’s stylised approach, the narrative thread is not consistently clear. For example, Macbeth’s conscience-stricken indecisiveness before murdering King Duncan is rushed through, while omitting the announcement that Malcolm is to be heir to the throne makes nonsense of Macbeth’s hopes that ‘chance may crown me, without my stir’.

The show is very much based around Tom Haines’s unsettling electronic score, with its high-pitched screeches, distorted loops and vibrating pulses, which sometimes merge with the rumbling of trains overhead to menacing effect. Two tables loaded with sound equipment dominate centre stage, with the cast dressed in modern casual clothes sitting down to operate it when not in character, so that the set resembles a recording studio, with the witches pushing all the buttons. With the lack of scenic variety, or much visual re-creation of the world the drama inhabits, the show often feels better suited for radio than the stage.

There are some arresting ideas, such as Macbeth trying to cleanse himself after murdering Duncan with a bucket of water that contains blood which he smears over himself, or staging the Banquo ghost banquet scene as a game of blind man’s buff. But while Lady Macbeth drawing a target in gaudy lipstick over Duncan’s naked torso or Macbeth kissing Banquo goodbye passionately on the lips may be gratuitous, having Macbeth reading aloud from Brodie’s Notes halfway through to foresee his own fate just seems crass.

In Ferdy Roberts’ production, seven performers play all the characters as well as producing the music, with only Roberts’ under-powered, passive Macbeth and Poppy Miller’s coldly calculating Lady Macbeth playing one role. The star of the show is undoubtedly the eerie soundtrack, picking up on the multiple references to noises in the text, but the dark human passion driving the action is left in the shadows.

By Neil Dowden

Macbeth is on at the VAULT Festival until 15 February. Tickets £16.50. Londonist saw this production on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 06 February 2015