Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
The Macbeths, the Citizens’ concentrated revision of Macbeth, supplies a charge that is so often missing in versions of the play.
The Scottish play has been subject to numerous reworkings over the years, and the title of this iteration initially suggests that it may have been turned into a sitcom.
While this is so very far from being the case, there is something domestic about director Dominic Hill and dramaturg Frances Poet’s cut-down, hour-long version. Only Macbeth (Keith Fleming) and Lady Macbeth (Charlene Boyd) make an appearance, in a claustrophobic, tense and bloody two-hander.
Hill’s production was much admired on stage for its energy and erotic charge, but this does not necessarily always transfer to camera. However, it has to be said that the film is something of a triumph – director Martyn Robertson for Undercroft Films has turned it into a tense and suitably disturbing affair whose buckets of blood are all the more effective for being shot in black and white.
The atmospheric lighting of Stuart Jenkins, the often disorienting editing of Richard Poet and the unsettling music of Matthew Whiteside combine to create an atmosphere of dread.
Set entirely on the Macbeths’ bed (although there are occasional other voices provided by a reel-to-reel tape recorder) this is a version of Macbeth that provides most of the story and takes surprisingly few liberties with the text.
It has to be said that it is probably best to have some familiarity with the play in order truly to follow what is going on. Some of the concerns of this production may also seem unnecessary – for example, the visual explanations offered for the absence of the child Lady Macbeth mysteriously refers to may seem a trifle pat.
Even this, however, chimes with the stiflingly domestic air of the production, where there are hints that much of what takes place may be as much delusion as reality.
Boyd and Fleming both provide performances of urgency and genuine force, giving the production a momentum that is almost worrying at times.
The fact that this is not the whole story of Macbeth does nothing to diminish the very successful impact of this welcome distillation.