Gavin McAlinden’s take on Macbeth is intriguing, insightful and innovative. Coming from Armagh he deploys his understanding of war, civil war and paramilitary violence to create a Macbeth that is located somewhere between the IRA, the Serbian mafia and Isis. Men dressed in sinister black clothing from head to foot, carrying Kalashnikovs and pistols are a contemporary version of Scottish Highland clan internecine warfare. This modern transposition works. It brings home in a visual equivalence the violence and bloodshed of Medieval Scotland. McAlinden again and again finds clever parallels between the medieval and the modern. I’ve mentioned the clothing and the weapons. He also throws in an Isis style beheading, knives and daggers remind us of London’s wave of knife murders, the porter drunk and drinking from a can of larger reminding us that night-watchman don’t change much, Lady Macbeth dressed to kill in knee length leather boots and black tights a modern dominatrix and above all the three Witches like something from the Zombie apocalypse.
This is a Macbeth that has been thought about long and hard to come up with a version that speaks to us in 2019. Which is as it should and must be. Moreover this production shows that Shakespeare is for everyone. The company ‘The Acting Gymnasium’ is made up of performers from twelve different nationalities. All the world’s a stage indeed.
McAlinden’s production brings out the primeval passions of blood, lust and power. He brings out very well the supernatural elements in Macbeth: Ghosts, witches, spells, prophecies, incantations, moving forests, men not of woman born and so on. He does this in many ways but for me the most compelling was his use of colour. A black backdrop is reinforced by the black clothing as I’ve mentioned. This blackness is then contrasted with red. Most obviously in the blood on the hands of the regicides but also in Lady Macbeth’s (Tracy Coogan, superb) hand washing scene where she comes on with red hair and a red shift. The Lady in Red. This is a Jackson Pollock all over drip painting but with only two colours: black and red. Whereas Jack the Dripper used his brush to splash paint all over the canvass this production uses knives to splash blood all over the stage, the hands and faces of the protagonists. The ghost of Banquo at the banquet is another scene in which the black and red contrast works superbly well. It’s visually stunning and viscerally shuddering. In the confines of such an intimate space it makes for compelling live drama. The Caravaggio inspired chiaroscuro conception is brilliantly handled in the Witches scenes. (Mirna Jonaso 1st witch, Liudmila Rehbinder 2nd Witch & Rozetta Lami 3rd witch, are all outstanding) They come on stage Zombie-like wearing white nighties. One has her face painted white with hideous red lipstick and black eye makeup. Another has grey face paint and grey hair. All three look spooky, scary and supernatural. The cacophony of shrill incarnations and piercing shrieks, catcalls and laugh’s make this the best weird sisters I’ve seen on stage. Absolutely stunning.
Michael Claff is excellent as Macbeth. Each successive phase in his narrative arc from loyal subject to regicide to paranoid nihilist is clearly portrayed. He speaks the great soliloquies clearly and coherently. Where Michael Claff excels is in the scenes where Macbeth has succumbed to paranoia. Here he gives a performance which reminded me of Hitler in the bunker. Giving orders that can’t be carried out to armies that no longer exist and yet still sure of his invulnerability for am I not born of woman he keeps reassuring himself. And then like Hitler when all is lost he embraces Gotterdammerung with nonchalance. Contrary to Hannah Arendt this is not the banality of evil but the vanity of evil. As a case study in megalomania (and we have a few on the world stage right now) this production of Macbeth is incredibly pertinent, timely and thought-provoking.
Review by John O’Brien
The Acting Gymnasium return to Theatro Technis with a new dystopian imagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy of ambition, power and the supernatural inspired by German expressionism and modern psychological horror genres.
The role of Lady Macbeth will be played by Irish actress Tracy Coogan most widely noted for her award winning leading role in the comedy/horror film ZOMBIE HONEYMOON, and the psychological thriller DARK WOODS opposite James Russo.
Acting Gymnasium presents Macbeth, November 5th – 23rd.
Directed by Gavin McAlinden