The Devil Speaks True is a reworking of Macbeth told from the point of view of Banquo. Like Complicite’s The Encounter (on at the Barbican this week) and recent shows by Shunt, Fuel and others – the show’s audio is relayed through headphones. This production also gives us the theatrical equivalent of smellovision (pumping odours not dissimilar to those produced by urinal cakes into our unsuspecting faces), along with projection and live performance. What visions we are permitted come in snatches – the majority of the show being performed in total darkness.
The play combines snippets of Shakespeare’s play with recorded footage from interviews conducted with veterans and hostages suffering from PTSD. The link is justified in the programme notes with reference to Banquo’s apparent insomnia and hallucinations. Given the number of Shakespeare characters who suffer sleepless nights and visions – this seems a little tenuous. But hey-ho.
The interviews are themselves often fascinating – but only in and of themselves. They elucidated little about the Shakespeare play. This wouldn’t have been a problem had they not been set up with the indication that this was their purpose. I ended up wishing that we could just drop the pretence that all of this has anything to do with Banquo and watch a play about PTSD instead. It didn’t help that having the voices of veterans speaking frankly and without affect about their experiences heightened the untruthfulness (and, frankly, the blandness) of the prerecorded Shakespeare recitals.
There’s plenty to like here: the show definitely creates an atmosphere, and some of the imagery is striking. The interviews are both moving and insightful. But it’s too much of a jumble to be a satisfying experience. Full marks for innovation. But more focussed thematic content and a few less gimmicks might have served this piece better.