The Pleasance, London – until 30 April 2017
How many puns can one play contain, particularly when they aren’t incorporated into the original story to begin with? Alexander Raptotasios has taken The Scottish Play, one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and much-loved works, and shoehorned in a fair few cheesy, somewhat degrading, karaoke numbers. They may be intended to add a new dimension to the tale and engender newfound empathy for the characters, but in reality, they detract from a compelling tale and cheapen both the production and company in equal measure.
The Macbeths starts as an “immersive” (read not immersive) dinner party, all parties sat around snorting coke, eating plates of deli meat and singing 80s inspired karaoke. Yes, this is the setting for The Scottish Play, a mish-mash that initially piques audience curiosity, but ultimately has nothing of substance to say. Audience members are half-heartedly encouraged to join in, sipping wine, eating and partaking in a spot of karaoke when the mood strikes. “What A Feeling” indeed. The songs are given more passion and effort by the cast than the prose itself – the likes of Irene Cara, Starship and Simple Minds may be catchy but there aren’t quite of the eloquence of the Bard himself.
Modern language is intermingled with classic Shakespearean prose in a painful clash of worlds, neither of which the actors feel comfortable in. Then, when they slip off this mortal coil, dying in the most overly dramatic fashion – Duncan (Daniel Jacob) is particularly diva-like, spitting a final catty comment before slumping over the table – they come and sit in the audience. We are the dead, you see. They webcam themselves into the play’s inner conscience and catcall the performers to spook them out. The audience doesn’t know whether to join in or not – half-hearted attempts to engage largely fall on deaf ears.
The fusion of old and new is too confused – a heart attack finishes off Duncan who then becomes talk-show host and narrator of Banquo’s (Oya Bacak) demise; Macbeth is dismembered with a chainsaw. All of this indicating the descent into madness, perhaps… but a descent that the actors themselves don’t commit to. Laughing manically and staring wide-eyed does not a madness make.
In terms of performance, the most poignant piece of The Macbeths is the death of Banquo – Bacak meets a familial end whilst reticently narrating her own demise to Alphaville’s “Forever Young”. Whilst this sounds as ridiculous and conceptually absurd the rest of the show, something about her stoic willingness to plead with the audience over the murder of her son is more touching. This is a point at which the fusion between worlds is tangible and understandable. This is possible the only point.
The other cast members on the whole throw away the classic text, unsure of its meaning or cadence. The infamous ‘Is This A Dagger’ speech is cut entirely, which in itself is unforgiveable and eludes to Macbeth’s (Helena Antoniou) inability to deliver it with confidence; Lady Macbeth (Claire Ganaye) plays hostess for the evening and takes more care in pouring water over herself than in tackling the nuances of her ‘Unsex Me Here’ monologue, arguably one of the most layered and beautiful pieces of prose in all of Shakespeare. The final nail in the coffin is when the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff (Oliver Hawick) is set to the karaoke stylings of MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”.
Whilst conceptually interesting, too much about The Macbeths is flawed. Raptotasios is so set on conceptual innovation that he forgets the range of atmospheres in this play. Horror, desperation, stoicism and a warped sense of love and duty, all sacrificed for fake blood, plastic sheeting and an homage to the decade of power ballads and catchy movie songs.