Macbeth: The Notes

Reviewer's Rating

Jemmett’s striking adaptation of ‘Macbeth’ is an extreme transformation of the Scottish play whose structure and content need a great deal of explaining. Almost all of the original text is dropped and the format becomes that of a ‘director’ giving notes to his cast of ‘Macbeth’ five days before opening night. ‘The director’ is, however, the only character who appears and the notes are delivered to imaginary actors sitting amongst the audience. ‘The director’, and only cast member, ably played by David Ayala, therefore delivers a two hour monologue, most of which is absolutely hilarious. Punctuating the comedy are soliloquys taken from the French translation of the original text, fourteen in all, which carry a great deal of drama and are mostly delivered with strong emotional power. Although this remains the format throughout almost the entire play, at the very end there is a radical diversion from the light comedy, interspersed with soliloquys, as, before the final speech of ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ – delivered, of course, in French – ‘the director’ goes behind a translucent screen at the back of the stage, completely strips and gets into a bath, in which he proceeds to cover himself in blood. He then gets out of the bath and comes slowly to the front of the stage and eerily delivers the final speech.

The final part of the play is tacked onto a very successfully delivered comic monologue which Ayala, with tireless energy, animates with great skill. He uses physical comedy – conjuring some very impressive and bizarre expressions – with some wonderful lines, written by Dan Jemmett, which overall give the audience a great deal of entertainment. He has lovely sections which gently mock directors in general – and some rather scathing ones about critics too – which draw on many different cultural icons, ranging from other Shakespeare plays to ‘Kill Bill’, which ensures that there is something that every audience member can understand. Whilst Ayala’s lines are brilliant, for the most part, his comic talent also shines through and was particularly visible during the performance when he lost his place in his copy of ‘Macbeth’ and had to improvise briefly.

The soliloquy sections of the play are marked out by the lowering of the houselights – which are left on in the other sections – and the reduction of the stage lighting to a single spotlight on Ayala and are, as a result, very dramatic. The quality of the delivery completely changes during those moments as ‘the director’ alters the whole timbre of his voice to suit the seriousness of the soliloquys which is very effective indeed. There are speeches, however, during which the comedy prevails and this undermines the drama somewhat, as, for example, Ayala adds comedy to Macbeth’s horrified speech on seeing Banquo’s ghost. Despite some errors of interpretation, almost all the rest are played with the appropriate, profound emotion which allows Jemmett to link the otherwise rather incongruous ending.

That being said, the ending is still deeply surprising for the audience as, on the pretence of relieving himself, ‘the director’ performs the remarkable routine described above. This is accompanied by piercing, atmospheric music which, together with the bizarre visual spectacle, breaks completely from the relative light-heartedness of the rest of the play. It is unclear quite what Jemmett wishes to achieve by this shocking and rather gory ending as ‘the director’ as a character is not explored enough throughout the rest of the play for this to be a statement about his personality and motivations. As a statement about art or the original ‘Macbeth’ it is similarly oblique but at least it serves to provoke thought about the play and its themes.

Overall this play bears very little discernable similarity with the ‘Macbeth’ of Shakespeare but provides the audience with a great deal of entertainment and some food for thought too by the, albeit rather mystifying, ending.