It is brave to take on a play as well-known, and as engrained in the Western canon as Macbeth. A lot of thespians take on the challenge of “doing Shakespeare”, yet it is an endeavour that leaves itself open to criticism – let’s face it, everyone seems to have their own opinion on how Shakespeare “should” be done.
With this in mind, it is even braver then, to radically adapt a Shakespeare text. The New Theatre’s latest venture takes Shakespeare’s original script of Macbeth and sets it in a twenty-first century office, propelling its themes of ambition, corruption and divine will into contemporary society. Without question, it is produced with much poise and deliberation.
While juxtaposing a seventeenth-century script with a twenty-first century setting may at first seem incongruous, director Tom Barnes and producer Emily Davenport took care to create coherence across this four-hundred year gap. Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, is now a businessman; Duncan, King of Scotland, is now the CEO; and, in a particular stroke of genius, the three witches are now three superstitious cleaning ladies. The small details also added to this overall effect – the predictions foretold by the witches’ ‘masters’ are actually tarot card readings; the letter Lady Macbeth reads from her husband is an email on an Apple MacBook (Biblical connotations of temptation and sin perhaps?); and the transformation of Birnam Wood into ‘Birnam Wood Office Supplies’ is especially inventive.
The backstage team took equal care in creating a remarkably elaborate set. They made fantastic use of the theatre space – almost no area was left unused, and acute use of lighting helped to define different areas and focus the audience’s attention. Complex set changes were precisely choreographed, and will probably become slicker as the show’s run progresses. This entire production was carefully interpreted and was executed with clear acumen and understanding.
This was supported by a wonderful cast, who were all at ease with Shakespeare’s text and delivered commendable performances. Sam Warren stood out as Macbeth; his transition from tentative uncertainty to psychopathic determination was wholly believable and compelling to watch. Florence Haddon-Cave gave her first New Theatre performance as Lady Macbeth, and was a ready match for Warren’s strong portrayal. Her descent from greed and desire to fragility and madness was equally compelling, and was executed with precision. James Bentley’s commendable performance as Macduff was both emotive and absorbing, and the dialogue between Macbeth and Jonny Fitzpatrick’s Banquo aptly expressed wit and camaraderie, portraying a believable friendship. Credit must also go to Topher Collins as the benevolent King Duncan, Lara Tysseling, Abby Robinson, and Gavi Morris as the conniving, enigmatic witches, and Sophie Perry, Richard Hill, and Lucy Dollman as the thanes or businessmen caught up in the unthinkable chaos of Macbeth’s relentless ambition. Rupert Bradshaw also deserves praise for his hilarious portrayal of the Porter as a loud and carefree drunk.
Overall, this is a highly imaginative and thought-provoking performance that breathes new life into Shakespeare’s text whilst also retaining the timeless issues of power and fate. This is Shakespeare with an innovative twist, and definitely not one to be missed!