Macbeth, directed by Alexander Wright, performed by Belt-Up, York Theatre Royal, 7th October 2010
So okay, it’s stretching it a bit to include Belt-Up’s Macbeth in a blog supposedly dedicated to Hamlet’s Chinese appropriations! Polski Theatre and Ryutopia Noh were at least performing my titular play; Mokwha Repertory’s Romeo and Juliet was intercultural – and Korea is next door to China. Belt-Up, by contrast, are local rather than global in the sense of VERY local: resident theatre company at the Theatre Royal, York, with their student-day roots at the University of York. But their production was avant-garde and considerably more entertaining than another article on intercultural theory, so I shall include it anyway.
I had originally been planning to go to see this with my 14 year-old daughter, but she got a free ticket through her school for the night before on condition that she wrote a review of it.
‘It was well weird,’ she said when she got back.
‘Good weird or bad weird?’ I asked.
‘Mostly good weird once you got into it. This man was a clown, then he stood on a step-ladder and changed into a dress with a pillow stuffed up it for Lady Macbeth, but kept his man’s head on. And there were only four actors playing all the roles, and then a lady was ill in the row behind us and started moaning and gasping. We thought it was part of the play, ‘cos it was dead scary and strange anyway, until somebody realised she had fainted and screamed and then everybody jumped out of their seats…’
Hopefully, the poor lady made a good recovery.
The mise-en-scene was a little obscure, a messy dressing-room perhaps, with the brick wall of the theatre exposed at the back. Three Beckett-like clowns rolled around in a slightly stiff British way. Machine guns rattled off stage. It wasn’t until I read the review in the Evening Press that I realised that the set was meant to be a bombed-out theatre from the First World War. Perhaps that is because my house usually looks like a bomb has hit it… But in retrospect it brought to mind Prevért’s poem about the devastated shell of a family home, with tattered lampshades and ‘un omelette abandonné’. There wasn’t an omelette of course, but there was a prominent dining table which, in addition to eating off, was used for sleeping on, hiding under and murderous execution. The bloodied tablecloth subsequently doubled for Macbeth’s courtly robes and Lady Macbeth’s dead baby. According to the Press, the overall allusion of the props and set was to the First World War. Even in retrospect, however, I’m not entirely convinced that the intended message came across. “Like Macbeth is an everyman, so everyone was an everyman in the First World War because they were all conscripted,” said Dominic J Allen of his role. What? Everyman? Conscription?! I thought it was about a deranged Scots overreacher and his wife murdering their way through the Scottish hierarchy in order to fulfil the prophecy of three hags in a wood… Was I watching a different play?
The cast of four was very effective, however, with the trampy vaudeville clown/witches taking on all the roles other than Macbeth. James Wilkes’ stubbly, cross-dressed Lady Macbeth, in size 12 stilettoes, ranged brilliantly from hilarious bad-drag to very real tragedy. It was a part written for a man anyway. Then there was a fantastically grotesque scene in the woods, when the tramps/witches performed a magic show. Lady M acted as the magician’s assistant, but instead of chopping him/her in half, one of the other witches pulled reems of knotted together red scarves from between his/her legs, like handkerchiefs from a top hat. Lady M had miscarried. As for the slow strangulation of Wilkes’ Pythonesque Lady Macduff, it silenced all but the most nervous of titters with its gruesome humour.