• Drama
  • By William Shakespeare
  • Director: Felix Mortimer
  • The Balfron Tower, Poplar
  • Until August 2014
  • Time: 20.00
  • Review by Luke Davies
  • 6th July 2014
Macbeth
3.0Reviewer's Rating

This production by Rift is a seriously ambitious project. It’s an immersive Soviet-era Macbeth that takes place in one of London’s iconic modernist high rises, in which audience members are invited to stay the night. We encounter witches in an underground car park, have dinner with Banquo’s ghost and watch a coronation on the rooftop.

Macbeth is at the promenade end of immersive theatre – more Shunt than Punchdrunk – as the audience are guided through the space, rather than being free to explore it. Excepting a few innovations and deviations, Rift are pretty faithful to Shakespeare’s script. All of this works: it results in a more coherent experience than “sand box” immersive shows, and the text at moments really comes alive thanks to the vivid settings.

And yet there are some issues preventing this production from being what it could be. To begin with, there were obvious logistical difficulties related to the splitting up of the audience into several groups: slowing everything down, visibly exhausting the actors and creating an atmosphere of mild chaos and uncertainty.

But the biggest issue was the tone of the piece. The fictional Borduria was more a parody of a politically volatile nation state (something like Woody Allen’s Banana Republic) than an attempt to convey a sense of the real thing. The parallels with the Eastern Bloc, reminiscent of Rupert Goold’s 2010 Macbeth, subsequently lost impact. There was an obvious need to build a contextual basis from which to guide audience members and to provide some relief – but the Borat accents and limp improv were I think misjudged.

This play asks a lot from its audience, and it does give in return. There are some memorable moments – the witches in the car park and Gruff Theatre’s macabre interventions in particular. The overnight thing is also an interesting innovation: mostly, I think, for the sense of companionship you build up with other audience members. It could really work – it just tries to do a little too much, and stumbles a little too often…

About The Author

Luke Davies is an arts journalist, academic researcher and theatre director who lives and works in London. He also writes for the Times Literary Supplement, Literary Review and Review 31.

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