Sitting in a busy Jackson’s Lane auditorium five minutes in to Proteus Theatre’s Macbeth I was smiling, totally convinced by the setting and excited about what was to come. Presumably thanks to the involvement of movement consultant, George Mann, the opening was a tightly choreographed recreation of a 1980’s financial trading floor, full of wit and in-your-face charm. Twenty minutes in, however, an uneasy feeling was growing that the evening might have already peaked. By an hour in, impressive physical theatre was a distant memory and I was bored enough to be metaphorically checking my watch. The situation did not improve.
I fear the problem lay, in a large part, with the casting of the lead. Riz Meedin has a long, successful CV, but here he approached the text hesitantly, with all the passion of an HR manager tackling a tricky spreadsheet. Even when, in an on-the-nose 80s moment, a large line of coke was conspicuously snorted in an executive washroom, his heart, and hearts in the audience, resolutely failed to beat faster. It was a flat performance that lacked intent and left a huge hole at the heart of the story.
Alexandra Afryea, fortunately, gave a much more committed performance as Lady Macbeth. She delivered her speeches with strong, skilful technique but, perhaps understandably, appeared overwrought at times simply in comparison with her weaker stage husband. Some of the direction, from Mary Swan, didn’t help her either. Most notably, asking her to reach for scissors to cut up a baby-gro during the early ‘unsexing’ speech. This seemed a bit of silly and unnecessary show-and-tell.
The direction and stage craft were noticeably wayward elsewhere. I would have enjoyed Macbeth’s face-off with Banquo’s ghost more, for example, if it hadn’t taken place in a cramped distant corner of the stage. As the shirtless ghoul spookily poured blood over himself, all I could do, in seat A5, was quietly seethe at the unforgiveable fact he had his back to me.
The multi-roling ensemble had a lot of work to do, given the problems elsewhere. Thankfully, they stepped up to the plate and each had moments that lifted the mood. As the Porter (although uncredited in the role), Jessica Andrade was asked to channel The Breakfast Club, including a dance number, and made it work. Umar Butt made a fine, muscular Banquo but excelled as a committed ‘middle’ witch, again with some impressive dance moves. Danny Charles wrestled manfully with some last-ditch fight choreography to be a suitably victorious Macduff when the end, mercifully, came
Katherine Heath’s costumes were welcome additions throughout and won points with direct nods to Grace Jones, Madonna and Miami Vice. Her set design, comprising three moveable boxes, provided some clever, striking images from a long dining table to a period phone box. They could, however, only do so much on their own.
Proteus is a long-established touring company, so it might be just bad luck I caught this one clumsy production. It might also be a sign that tackling two-and-half hours of Shakespeare, compared to say five minutes of physical theatre, is a very challenging thing to do well. I applaud the ambition but sadly on this occasion cannot recommend the results.
Director: Mary Swan
Set & Costume Designer: Katherine Heath
Movement Consultant: George Mann
Booking until: This show has completed its current run