The RSC's dramatic first installment of their 2017 'Rome' season impresses Will GillinghamWritten by Will Gillingham on 29th March 2017
Review: ‘Macbeth’ at the mac Birmingham.
Alice J Kiff reviews an unusual and entertaining production of Macbeth at the mac.
mac Birmingham recently saw the arrival of Oddsocks Productions - a wacky, all-guns blazing classical theatre company who dedicate themselves to telling the bard’s tales in a variety of creative ways, from puppet shows to musicals. This season Oddsocks are touring Macbeth and Much Ado About Nothing in tandem, and I had the chance to catch Macbeth at the mac’s open air arena.
The six-actor cast appeared on stage in the early evening sunshine, immediately throwing themselves into chatting with the audience, selling us programmes, telling us about their characters, and encouraging us to tut the latecomers. This improvisation was delivered with a tremendous amount of energy and humour which did not falter throughout the production. Striving to make the play accessible to those who didn’t know the play, the cast gave us a whistle-stop tour through the relationships and intentions of the characters, and even invited an audience member on stage to act as “the Messenger” and speak a few lines of Shakespeare at a later point in the play.
“...improvisation was delivered with a tremendous amount of energy and humour which did not falter throughout the production.
The piece kicks into action and we are thrust into an entirely steampunk themed Macbeth where the witches are automatons, and the stage is overflowing with steaming pipes, metallic cogs, and fantasy factory contraptions. For a production that really went all out of the aesthetic, including marvellously wild metal-plated, pinstriped and top-hatted costumes, I didn’t feel that any reason for having that design choice was really explored. It was certainly eye-catching and brilliantly executed, but its impact on the production ended there, and I felt unfortunately that the design served as more of a distraction than an addition to the story. From the music, to the clever wisecracks, there was so much happening on stage - that it was a shame that I was often too distracted thinking, “Why are we in a factory? Why is Macbeth dressed as a steamworker out of a fantasy video games? Why robots? What does this add?” There was not a dull moment during this comedy-tragedy, and Oddsocks succeeded in getting the audience regularly participating in a way that never felt forced or pantomime-like.
A big selling-point of the piece was the musical genre, as tunes by the Arctic Monkeys, Nina Simone, and Queen - just to name a few - were performed on stage by a very talented cast, wielding drumsticks and bass guitars. The company drew clever connections between the script and popular songs, and as Lady Macbeth sang “Killer Queen”, and Macduff was dubbed as “a scumbag - don’t you know?”, audiences of all ages were certainly tickled.
The music was amusing, the performances wildly energetic, and some hilarious moments shone through - such as the gag about Macduff’s chickens being killed, but overall I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing the emotional impact of the story, as we chuckled and clapped our way through one of Shakespeare's darkest and grimmest tragedies. As much as it was brilliantly produced and superbly executed, I still wanted to feel the sadness of the deaths, and the gravitas of the characters’ hard decisions.
“...we chuckled and clapped our way through one of Shakespeare's darkest and grimmest tragedies.
During the final scene I felt too busy watching Macbeth ride a steampunk motorcycle across an apocalyptic car-park, laughing at the silly and entertaining use of physical theatre, and jamming along to the rock music in the background, to feel particularly moved or upset by his following death.
So, although the piece probably missed a trick regarding the emotion of the story, I wholeheartedly hope that Oddsocks keep up what they’re doing. Theatre companies that play with Shakespeare; that thrust it into new contexts and make the scripts accessible to new audiences - are the lifeblood of Shakespeare, and I hope that Oddsocks; in what I’m sure will be their long future, will inspire theatre makers to be as creative as they are with the bard’s work.
Oddsocks's production of Macbeth was performed at the mac on the 17th of July.