Macbeth (an undoing)

Macbeth (an undoing)
Reviewer's Rating

Lady Macbeth: she’s arguably Shakespeare’s most distinctive leading lady for her legendary, now trope-ified coercion of her husband’s brutal power grab. She guides Macbeth when he falters and smooths the way when he errs. And yet, seemingly with no explanation, she disappears halfway through the play and reappears at the end of her descent from sanity. In Macbeth (an undoing), Zinnie Harris offers us a peek at her side of the story. This vibrant, bloody adaptation of Macbeth is a story that delves into motherhood, sisterhood, and the many relationships that women have with each other, the men around them, and with themselves.  

Macbeth (an undoing) takes place in 1930s Scotland, a very specific time period that allows for luscious costumes and an elaborate, impressive set that may invite visual comparison to Sleep No More. Much of Act I goes how the first half of Shakespeare’s Scottish play goes, word for word. But Zinnie Harris’s script leaves much more room for the women in the story. Carlin (Liz Kettle), one of the three witches, delivers a personable, fourth-wall-defying opening monologue. She melts into the background when not with her sister witches, but she is never long offstage. She flits about Lady Macbeth’s castle as a servant, performing unseen labor and acquiescing to all of Lady Macbeth’s needs – perhaps a sign of how pervasive the witches’ power is, that they are in her house without her even realizing. We also meet Lady Macduff (Emmanuella Cole) – called “sister” by Lady Macbeth – a lively, heavily pregnant young woman who is desperately covering up her loneliness and resentment towards her husband. The two women are family, their seemingly unconditional love for each other evident in each scene even as their relationship reaches a breaking point. With Harris’s writing, the fleshed-out lives of these women in the text don’t feel supplemental to the original story – they feel like the core of it all.

Act Two is where the ambiguity begins. Lady Macbeth (Nicole Cooper) easily shoulders the burdens of her husband’s madness following Banquo’s death as well as his duties of running the country. She also makes it her mission to track down three beggar women who have been haunting her property. These women – unsurprisingly, the same three Weird Sisters who prophesied to Macbeth haunt her the same way her many dead babies and the white dresses that keep smearing with blood haunt her.  In the psychedelic sprint towards the end of the play, the world around Lady Macbeth gets exponentially madder as she stays sane. 

With a turn of searing performances, the world of Macbeth is opened up and reexamined in a way that will keep you on the edge of your seat even while you know exactly how it will end. Nicole Cooper brings fire but also empathy to the role of the Scottish queen, and her chemistry with Emmanuella Cooper’s Lady Macduff is genuine and endearing, heartbreakingly so in light of what’s to come. In (Macbeth: an undoing) Zinnie Harris provides us not just with a possible explanation for the Icarian tragedy of Lady Macbeth’s fall, but also a compelling story with fresh intrigue, new horror, and a climax that will leave you thinking for long after you leave the theater. 

Written and directed by Zinnie Harris (after William Shakespeare)

A Royal Lyceum Edinburgh Production 

Cast includes: Adam Best, Emmanuella Cole, Nicole Cooper, Liz Kettle, Thierry Mabonga, Marc Mackinnon, Taqi Nazeer, Star Penders, James Robinson, Laurie Scott

Run time: 2 hours 35 minutes, including 1 intermission

Runs through 4 May 2024

Theater for a New Audience