Pros: Fast-paced action, accomplished ensemble acting and ingenious perspective comedy.
Cons: Character-switching and laugh-seeking occasionally lessened the play’s overall impact.
The three witches stare into a cauldron; in the cauldron, they see the future. In most productions of Macbeth the witches (and the audience) are the only ones who can see the “sound and fury” of Macbeth’s character trying to alter his bloody destiny, at key moments in the play. In this production though, 6FootStories adds an extra frame – a trio of young, violent, mildly crazed young men. They play-act the whole of the Macbeth story, including the witches and all the characters, as if it were a rough and tumble game. A bold move, which ended up mostly triumphant.
I had been to The Hope’s music venue and pub previously, but this was my first time in the upstairs theatre. Despite a warm welcome by staff, I had braced myself for disappointment at first glimpse of the tiny room and the low budget cardboard-walled set (no stage designer here). Thankfully, focus soon shifted to the first character, who was busy setting up a religious ritual on a giant floor-painted occult star as the audience filed in. We were kept close – two rows deep, surrounding the acting area on three sides – so there was no escaping the production’s sensual assault: at times a blur of moving bodies, dancing and loud bangs.
To begin with it isn’t clear where the storytellers end and the witches begin. But as the play progresses and the storytellers (controversially) steal more of the characters’ best lines, it all comes nicely into focus. The storytellers reappear at the end of every scene with vigour: young, bare-chested and full of violent mirth.
It is as scratch puppeteers, not embodied characters, that the performing trio have their funniest and most inspired moments. The murder of Macduff’s family is played with the hilarious brutality of a Punch & Judy show. Macbeth’s “is this a dagger I see before me” speech becomes a game of ‘grandmother’s footsteps’ that makes mock of Macbeth’s mental struggles. The final scene, in which a forest moves by wheelbarrow (but not in the way you might think) is a master stroke. The ensemble playing is accomplished; main characters are swapped and shared by each of the actors so effectively that only a bare minimum of prop signalling is ever needed.
That the actors are up to the job of ‘doing’ Shakespeare (this is their first, says the programme, though I wouldn’t have known it) is without question in my opinion. Jake Hassam plays his storyteller/witch character with twinkle-eyed macho charisma. Will Bridges’ Macbeth (the first actor the audience sees as Macbeth) was watchable and convincing, and Nigel Munson’s Banquo was far more complex than I’d have expected in such a traffic-filled production.
I couldn’t help but feel, though, that the ensemble’s ‘equality’ (everyone plays everyone) and the rich seam of ridicule set up by the storyteller trio frame, hindered the production at the same time as helping it. Yes, it was always obvious who Lady Macbeth and King Duncan were, but if they’d been played less as silly caricatures, and with more gravity, less of the original play’s emotional impact would have been lost.
The show is immensely fun, especially if you know the play well. The performers were skilled, intelligent and knew their Shakespeare, even if their choices occasionally made the reading less subtle than it could easily have been.
Overall, an infectiously energetic and visually arresting night of clever sound and fury.
Author: William Shakespeare, retold by 6FootStories
Movement Direction: Kristoffer Huball
Playing Until: 20 February 2016
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: http://www.6footstories.co.uk/macbeth.html