Under Nick Hastings’ direction, Shakespeare’s tragedy of backstabbing and power struggles is dragged down from Scotland and dropped (rather unceremoniously) into London’s Square Mile, home of the murky world of City banks. This is such a perfect transition for Macbeth that it is surprising it has never been done before. The Macbeths’ castle becomes the boardroom of The Royal Bank of Dunsinane, facing a very hostile takeover bid from the rival bank, Birnam Wood and the witches take on the role of reporters and gossip press.
Infinite Space Theatre ‘believe in the importance of demystifying classic texts’ and their inaugural performance, Macbeth at The Cockpit Theatre, certainly makes a bold effort. There is so much promise and room for innovation in this modern setting yet this production is hit and miss.
The greatest problem this Macbeth has is its fierce loyalty to the text. While its programme is full of witty puns and a really clever reimagining of the play told in the language of the world of finance, the production merely hints at the setting with power suits and smart phones, a journalist with a microphone and a TV screen with the words ‘Royal Bank of Dunsinane’ in the background. One can’t help but think that Infinite Space’s Macbeth may have been more successful had it updated the script a little. There are a few scenes where the modern twist works well, mainly to be found towards the end of the second half, but the update seems sadly forgotten for the majority of the two and a half hours. The clashing of Shakespeare and Starbucks-sipping bankers feels clunky.
However, amongst the confusion there are some pleasing performances to be found. Ian Grant is appropriately haunting as Banquo and Fran Trewin makes for a wonderful female Macduff with the gender change adding an interesting dynamic to the character. Steven Maddocks and Danielle Stagg play the power-hungry Macbeths with varying degrees of success. Stagg seems to go too mad too soon and Maddocks is too nonchalant for their first few scenes. Thankfully, though, they pull it together after Duncan’s murder and are just strong enough to compete with Trewin’s show-stealing performance.
The real tragedy of Infinite Space’s Macbeth is not its story but its concept: one that works well in theory but is lacklustre in execution. A good cast is let down by a misguided vision that left me feeling weary and completely bemused by its ending, ‘crowning’ Siward in the place of Malcolm. Infinite Space have a lot to say about women, power politics and bankers but these themes are lost in a Macbeth that tries to cram far too much into its running time. Some scenes could be cut which would allow for a more focused play that gets its message across more successfully.
A disappointing production – the third star is awarded purely for the clever ‘City Times’ programme (featuring an advert for ‘ Out, damned spot! Seyton’s Disinfentant Gel… for really clean hands’) which is a piece of utter genius. If only it had been reflected in the performance. This is just another Macbeth, though it had the potential to be so much more.