by William Shakespeare
Directed by Lynne Parker
Set and Costume Design by Diana Ennis
Lighting Design by Sinéad McKenna
Music and Sound Design by Denis Clohessy
by Ryan Crown (22nd November 2012)
Macbeth in Northern Ireland inevitably seems to comment upon the conflict of recent decades in this country and Lynne Parker’s version is no exception. A play underpinned by the bloody imprint of murder and war: it is no wonder, then, that the ‘Scottish play’ reverberates so strongly with Northern Irish audiences. Parker’s, Macbeth offers a challenging interpretation and over the two and three quarter hours a strong atmosphere of moral and political decay is created.
Before the play even begins, Diana Ennis’ broodingly elegant set establishes the atmosphere. Deceptively simple at first glance, the two tiered set incorporates a gravel-strewn blasted heath on top, built of rough, over-sized slabs of slate that do triple duty as walls, shelves and steps and a lower level that serves as the various interiors.
It feels just slightly unreal, almost like a dreamscape, and that feeds nicely into the role the witches play in this version of Macbeth. No mere supernatural interlopers, these witches are an integral part of the play. They slide in and out of scenes, murmuring their magically enhanced whispering campaign in receptive ears as they serve whine and take notes. Parker has appropriated the witches as a force of malicious momentum throughout the play. They dominate each scene with malignity and darkness, in the compelling guise of three Ulster woman. Eleanor Methven, Carol Moore and Claire Rafferty as the weird sisters give this ‘mans play’ a female voice and they are the driving force of the narrative.
The eponymous role is handled admirably by Stuart Graham. He maps the trajectory of his moral descent from brave, noble and loyal man of action to a protagonist racked with guilt and paranoia and whose mind is “full of scorpions”. He vividly captures how the noble hero morphed into death-dispensing tyrant and how political order turned into bloodlust chaos. Andrea Irvine’s Lady Macbeth unaided by Ennis’ unflattering wardrobe choice, her erratic tempo and passionless portrayal was devoid of any nurturing instinct.
Lynne Parker is to be commended for letting the actors speak in their local accents. The Northern Irish cadence lends itself well to Shakespeare’s most visceral tragedy. Parker has clearly worked hard with the entire cast, carefully measuring the extent to which manual and facial movements can serve to emphasise and unravel textual meaning in the Shakespearian verse. Her solutions are invariably economical and intelligent, and make a significant contribution to elucidating the characters’ inner thoughts and motivations.
The fluidity of Parker’s story-telling is further enhanced by Denis Clohessy’s sound design. Crashing storms, eerie underscoring and voice echoes of the weird sisters all add to the dark murderous tale. The cast are a superb blend of local actors emphasising Parker’s determination to steer this cultural behemoth into a distinctly Northern Irish territory. That said, Parker’s ambitious localisation is not fully achieved. The haunting publicity image of three faceless women wearing hooded macs clutching handbags in a graffiti-strewn pedestrian subway which advertised Parker’s ‘Belfast’ version was reduced to non-descript garb and a blackened OAP shopping trolley. Moreover, one might expect the cutthroats who pitilessly murder MacDuff’s children and wife to bear relation to the murder gangs like the Shankill Butchers. The plays themes are certainly familiar to Northern Ireland: murder, ambition, guilt and remorse, but Parkers version seems to be somewhat lacking overall.