Theatre Review: Macbeth at The Tobacco Factory

Macbeth by Filter Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres

Wednesday 3 – Saturday 20 September
Tobacco Factory Theatre

‘It’s Shakespeare, but not as we know it.”

A plethora of instruments, percussion and tangled wires sit in a divot in the middle of a stage. Four actors build a wall of electronic noise using a succession of midi keyboards, theremins and loop pedals. Lines spit from a radio frequency as the actors, doubling up as the weird sisters, direct Macbeth’s fate with a nonchalant prophecy and a dropped beat. Banquo and Macbeth circle the electronic orchestra pit in trepidation, and some of the audience begin to wonder why an experimental festival closer have planted themselves in the middle of a Shakespeare play. Why indeed?


Because, whilst this is Shakespeare, as co producers Tobacco Factory put it, ‘it is not Shakespeare as we know it.’ Instead this is Filter’s bold and dynamic re imaging, a theatre company renowned for interpreting classical texts a little more cerebrally, a little more noisily, than the rest.

Their main twist on the traditional (amongst the actors wearing normal clothes and eating skips) is the live show sound tracking, allowing the actors to control the temperament and fate of the characters using non-diegetic bleeps and echoes. It seems whoevers makes the music is briefly the director, and they can taunt the Macbeth’s and their consciences through heavily reverbed knocking, or kill Macduff’s kin through the creepy silencing of a baby monitor. Ollie Dimsdale plays Macbeth as a willing and apathetic pawn, whose deliciously evil wife, played beautifully by Polly Miller, convinces him to murder the King of Scotland based on the prophecies of witchy apparitions. Miller drips with sensual manipulation as she hands a heavily symbolic apple to her husband, most likely an organic one as The Better Food Company is sponsoring this.

The stage serves as a walkway around the electronic pit, building climatic tension between Macbeth and his frenemies as they circle and mark each other, occasionally walking each other off the stage and into the light beyond. The show certainly zips along at an energetic pace; tying in with the rhythmic momentum of the music and keeping tensions high, but whilst bums remained un-numb, it does lead to a lack of context for those who are not Macbeth savvy. The tight pacing and stylistic staging means there is little time or space for scene setting, and a doubling up of minor roles means it could get muddled for those unfamiliar with the structure of the play. There was also the occasional over reliance on the sound effects, turning an interesting variant into a slight gimmick at times, especially when it disrupted some of the more poignant speeches, with Macbeth’s ‘to-morrow,’ speech being barely allowed to resonate before getting thrown away in the midst of ironic sound and fury.

Before the show started, The Tobacco Factory mentioned it is still in it’s early stages, and is likely to change or adapt during it’s run, and as much as I enjoyed Filters production and felt fully engrossed I would argue there should be breathing space for the more delicate scenes. The humanising of Macbeth needs to be felt, for us to care more, as well as the maddening of him. I did enjoy the rumbustious nature of certain set pieces, for example after Macbeth murders Duncan he goes on a ‘all night bender,’ and lights flash wildly as he partakes in drugs handed to him by the orchestra, in their ‘pit of manipulation.’ However if these scenes were balanced out with powerfully delivered monologues by Macbeth, where he was allowed to take the time to make the audience feel his pain, the sound tracking and staging would feel less like it is at the cost of any emotional depth.

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