Cuts like a knife…but not so right

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Macbeth: Sliced to the Core

The Byre Theatre

Wednesday, October 5th

I like one-man shows.  There is something minimalist and unfussy about them which appeals to my borderline fascist hatred for stage clutter.  So I approached the Top Edge Company’s one-man slice of Fife with anticipation. However, I am going to be brutally honest here. If I had not studied Macbeth for three years, in two separate subjects, plus played the pivotal role of ‘English Soldier Three’ in one very bad school production, I cannot say I’d have known what on earth was going on.  I am full of admiration for any actor that attempts to do Shakespeare solo, as it were; however the final result was less than spellbinding.

David Keller certainly did a consistent job of separating his Lady Macbeths from his Donalbains using a variety of accents including, bizarrely, one token Irish murderer; but overall it felt more like witnessing a very advanced episode of schizophrenia than a coherent plot.  While arguably this shows the equivocatory nature of the play and the many ‘faces’ of Macbeth in his tendencies towards dark and light, it did little for audience concentration.

Keller alternately strode (as Macbeth), minced (as Lady Macbeth) and skipped (as all three witches) across the stage in the alarming choice of tight black leggings, his toenails scratching the floor atmospherically.  Sitting in the front row, his feet were directly in my eye-line, so this aural addition was gratingly obvious.  His tendency to deliver lines to the back of the stage was also unhelpful as, frustratingly, key moments such as the ‘Out damn spot’ and ‘Is this a dagger I see before me’ were lost due to bad blocking. Not to mention the disastrous directorial decision to cover his face with a shawl, burkha-like, during important monologues.

Keller’s strongest moments were his stillest, maintaining eye contact and intimacy with the audience.  ‘Light thickens, and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood…’ acquired an intense eeriness, his only movement a faint fluttering of his hands to simulate wings.  There were other strong moments; Keller absolutely came into his element as the grotesque Porter, rather ironically his speech on equivocation (delivered as an absolutely smashed Scotsman with the phlegmy growl of a chain smoker) was the most coherent 5 minutes of the 70 minute piece.

However, I found Keller’s treatment of the women in ‘Macbeth’ jarring; the witches were firstly frolicking schoolgirl lassies dancing with a ragdoll Macbeth – I half expected Keller to start cartwheeling – and then elderly crones with Disney villain laughs.  Lady Macbeth was both petulant and queasily sexualised; though admittedly any male middle aged actor would find an evil seductress with lines such as ‘Come to my woman’s breasts and take my milk for gall’ quite a pill.  Let’s just say there was a lot of flirtatious shawl caressing that was more Eddie Izzard than femme fatale.

While the cluttered set (one actor, one stepladder, one hat-stand, six chairs) inflamed my intolerant OCD mind, there were some inspired uses of props.  Throwing down a pack of King cards neatly yet dramatically illustrated the unbreakable line of Banquo’s heirs, and the one-man sword fight finale between Macduff and Macbeth was intelligently choreographed and very effective.

Sliced to the core. The sense of going back to basics; back to the true, black, bloody heart of the play. No, this was more a slightly incompetent dissection by a shaky-handed fresher medic. A more pertinent title would perhaps have been – Macbeth:  Chopped up and haphazardly rearranged.

 


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