Macbeth. CLF Theatre. Peckham (16/11/2017)
The Bussey building suffered extensive shabby-chic flood damage a day or two before The Devil You Know production moved in. Good Luck Macbeth! The actor’s curse. Something evil this way came.
It deserves all the praise it has received. It is as in-your-face as everyone says, and you won’t forget it in a hurry. The polluted space trembles with smoking evil and is littered with psychopaths fighting over Junk. Which is topical enough. And, unlike a recent prestigious production of Lear at the Barbican, the audience did not laugh at the gore. Those in the front rows cowered in terror.
Jared Fortune’s McDuff disintegrated before our eyes like someone being pipe-fed Puccini deathbed arias – and clawed his way out of hell like Lucifer. Sadie Pepperell never failed to completely inhabit the disordered mentality of a bereaved mother desperate to ease her pain with Power, whatever the cost in blood. Overall, probably the most professional Macbeth cast seen South of the Thames since the last Old Vic or NT production.
However, the ‘post-apocalyptic’ theme was not necessary, even if inspired by the state of the space. Especially in The Bussey, which hosted a post apocalyptic Macbeth in 2013 (Company of Shadows). ‘It’s Peckham – so it must be a wasteland’? An abstract approach would have worked as well, and avoided the temptations of slightly overdone North-London gothic design. Strange how Camden Market boots survived the Apocalypse. I must get a pair.
The overall tendency was to emphasise the melodrama and distract from the tragedy. This high-volume approach delivered a rattling good yarn, but at times smothered the subtleties.
The purpose of the Porter’s soliloquy, for instance, was completely obliterated under gurning caricature. Instead of revealing the horror of a world without truth, and unlocking the play, he merely offered evidence that Cockney stereotypes are as indestructible as cockroaches. The sense was that the role was under-exploited, under-valued and an obligation to, or relief from the text rather than an integral part of it. Which only puts The Devil You Know Theatre Company in very elevated company. Most Porters miss the point, looking for knob-gag laughs where there are none. JK Glynn’s job was made harder by having to avoid visual confusion with his dual role, Lennox, even to the extent of having license to break the iambic rule forced a little too rigidly on the middle-class parts.
A little more conversational freedom in general with the meter would have been welcome. We were treated to a magnificent exhibition of acting excellence which sometimes failed to allow the players to fully personalise their roles and stress nuances unearthed in rehearsal.
Macbeth is obviously ‘about’ Ambition and Power. But more fundamentally it is about Truth itself. It was written during an atmosphere of religious fanaticism, terror and Equivication – when ‘equivocation’ had become as much a buzz-word among the Jacobean intelligentsia as ‘Fake-News’ is today. Montaigne had hit town, with his motto ‘What Do I Know’? In that sense, Macbeth has seldom been more relevant. It doesn’t need to be set in a fantasy horror future to horrify us. It only needs to be set now, when we should be asking ourselves the Porter’s searing inversion of Montaigne’s question:
‘What are you?’