I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester.
Instruments of Darkness
At the 2013 Manchester International Festival, Macbeth was staged in a church and starred Kenneth Branagh. Demand for tickets was so high that a live open air screening was held in a car park.
In this version of Shakespeare's play, directed by Carrie Cracknell and designed by Lizzie Clachan, the set resembles the basement of a multistorey car park. It's the kind of place where shady characters in films meet to conduct nefarious business. It is, therefore, the perfect setting for the treacherous deeds of Macbeth's protagonists.
Anna Maxwell Martin (Lady Macbeth) and John Heffernan (Macbeth). Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.
The lead role, in this co-production between HOME, Young Vic and Birmingham Repertory Theatre, is taken by John Heffernan. He delivers the soliloquies with beautiful clarity. Anna Maxwell Martin, as Lady Macbeth, has great stage presence but sometimes speaks the verse very quickly. This reflects Lady Macbeth's mental state but means that a few of the words are lost.
Prasanna Puwanarajah (Banquo) and John Heffernan (Macbeth). Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.
Prasanna Puwanarajah plays Banquo. The actor appears on stage after the murder of his character. He is in the famous ghost at the dinner table scene. Later he speaks lines traditionally delivered by other characters. This is perhaps to suggest that Macbeth's guilt about the murder is so great that it obsesses his every waking moment. In these scenes, the grey walls of the set design seem to suggest the mental prison from which Macbeth cannot escape.
John Heffernan (Macbeth). Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.
The production runs without an interval and a significant amount of dialogue is cut. We do get, though, more movement and dance than I have personally scene in productions of the play. The dance scenes, choreographed by Lucy Guerin, cannot compete with Shakespeare's verse but neither do they make a mockery of it. The Witches' jerky movements at times resemble those of marionettes, perhaps indicating that they are as much under the control of the forces of evil as is Macbeth himself.
Clemmie Sveaas, Jessie Oshodi, Ana Beatriz Meireles as the Witches. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.
Lighting Designer is by Neil Austin and strobe lighting is used in an unsettling way to give a different spin on the play's many references to the disruption of the natural order. It also reminds us of the psychological torture inflicted on political prisoners.
The music by Clark seemed to me to often be atonal and influenced by 90's dance anthems and trip hop. It may not be to everybody's taste but I felt that it enhanced the unsettling and claustrophobic atmosphere of the production.
Prasanna Puwanarajah (Banquo) watches the Witches and Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.
The challenge for any new staging of a Shakespeare play is what can be brought to it that is new. This modern dress production demonstrated that Macbeth can be augmented by the use of technology and design which did not exist in the era in which Shakespeare wrote the play.