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Montague Basement’s Macbeth

Helena Parker reviews one half of the emerging theatre company’s Shakespeare double bill

Photo courtesy of Zaina Ahmed Photography Photo courtesy of Zaina Ahmed Photography

Montague Basement’s production of Macbeth, directed by Saro Lusty-Cavallari, is both thrilling and imaginative, but it is not a production without its flaws.

We are introduced to the bloody world of the play by a single witch (played by an impressive Lulu Howes) lying motionless on the stage, her cheek resting in a pool of blood, surrounded by white plastic sheets reminiscent of American Psycho.

This drastically cut down version sees a handful of actors playing several characters, which could cause confusion for someone who did not know the play well. Howes herself plays the Witches, the Messenger, the Porter, and Macduff, without any obvious costume changes. Doubtless, her character was intended to be an omnipresent figure within the play, yet the choice to have her play Macduff was an odd one and dilutes the significance of his character. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of Macduff’s scenes were cut, most notably  the beautiful “I must also feel it as a man” scene, where he mourns the loss of his family. This cross-casting made the play difficult to follow at times, and although cuts are always necessary when performing Shakespeare, Lusty-Cavallari’s choices eroded some of the tonality of the original.

In spite of this, Lusty-Cavallari’s design and transitions are inventive and truly interesting to watch. Non-verbal sequences such as the preparation of the banquet and Duncan’s death were particularly memorable—using rhythm and some beautiful physical choices to colour the transitions. Although towards the end some of these physical sequences, such as the death of Macbeth, became messy, there remained some very memorable moments.

My main query with this production is the characterisation of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. While their relationship was passionate and sexual (an aspect many productions neglect or simply ignore), their emotional evolution seemed absent. Macbeth’s madness had no development, and his monologue “Is this a dagger I see before me?” was jarring as it seemed to come from nowhere. Similarly, Lady Macbeth’s initial scene, where she expresses that Macbeth is “without the illness” to attend to his desires, was delivered almost conversationally. This is a woman reflecting that her husband is too weak to commit murder, yet the gravity of her speech was not felt. Most pointedly, the crippling ambition of both characters was absent, and therefore the resulting events felt  groundless.

This is not to say the capabilities of the performers themselves were lacking; on the contrary, all actors were talented and impressive in their roles—regardless of whether the interpretation of the text was the most erudite one. Special mention should go to Travis Ash as the priestly, white-clad Duncan and Jem Rowe as the youthfully passionate Malcolm. Hannah Cox also shone in Lady Macbeth’s “Damn spot…” scene, which was truly upsetting and disturbing.

At times it felt as if the design and the concept of the piece took precedence over the actual integrity and meaning within Shakespeare’s work. Overall, though, this is a passionate and inventive production with some truly thrilling visuals and non-verbal moments.

Montague Basement’s Macbeth is continuing to show at the PACT Centre for Emerging Artists on the 7th, 9th and 10th of December. Find out more about it (and its other half, The Taming of the Shrew) here.

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