When someone utters the word ‘Macbeth’ (cue lighting strike), the response is often an eye-roll, yawn, and a resounding “eurgh”. Arguably, the play has lost much of its steam with our generation, following secondary school English. Yet, dramatist Erica Schmidts’ energetic adaptation entitled ‘Mac Beth’ rallies Gen-Z to see the modern in Shakespeare. Produced by Isabel Alexander and Ottavio Morfino, the Scottish drama is one of two productions to grace the Buchanan Lecture Theatre this semester; and if the first is anything to go by, a vicious battle for hegemony may ensue, much like the play itself…
Schmidt transposes the plot of the Scottish play to a group of school friends, where its themes of power, fate, and ambition rise to become strikingly relevant to the female experience in high school. The friendship group’s DIY telling of the bloody Macbeth in a desolate parking lot quickly pervades their world, blurring any sense of distinction between the Shakespearian tragedy and reality. Schmidt’s adaptation whilst retaining the original text, is energised by its contemporary setting, rarely waning throughout the two-hour running time.
Shakespeare, particularly Macbeth, is notoriously hard to tackle given its significance to the English literary canon, and with such a legacy looming over her, director Lila Patterson took it within her stride. Patterson’s direction was, for the most part, fresh, and ensured the all-female cast used the unconventional space of the Buchanan to its fullest extent. A praiseworthy element was when cast members shone torches upon Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, projecting their enlarged shadows onto the walls of the Buchanan. The move was inherently clever, conveying the pair’s dominance and the reign of terror they would bring. Admittedly, direction did falter in places, such as the drawn out death of Macbeth in the play’s denouement, accompanied by squirting fake-blood and a decapitated head placed centre-stage. Unfortunately, the choice added little to the piece but subsequent laughter from the audience, feeling similar to a pantomime, and undermining the preceding tension. Nonetheless, Patterson’s direction maintained the suspense behind an innately dark piece of theatre.
Leading performances from Hannah Shiblaq as Macbeth and Clara Curtis as Lady Macbeth, glistened amidst the eerily lit stage. Shiblaq approached the role with subtlety, characterising a Macbeth that became dizzily overcome with power, capturing her character’s adolescence. Meanwhile Curtis’ Lady Macbeth, the pinnacle of female theatrical roles, cast a spell over the audience by cultivating a fierce, calculated, interpretation of the power behind the pair’s rise to rule. The onstage chemistry between the pair was electric, both tackling lengthy monologues with little sign of hesitation.
Elsewhere, the witches played by Ellen Rowlett, Laura Kibedi Makfalvi Varga, and Jess Payne dominated the show from the offset with their crazed cackling. Moreover, Poppy Kimitris as Banquo, the noble companion to Macbeth and Louise Windsor’s Macduff, the eventual hero, each gave strong performances respectively, aiding the building of tension.
Cast aside, the creative team reigned supreme. Technician Sofia David’s lighting was a triumph, maintaining a dimly lit stage that was archetypally Shakespearean whilst modern; her choice of pink lightning in instances of partying, emphasising the school girl setting. Set design by Abby Kelley was similarly effective, with a dilapidated parking lot pieced together by a couch, bathtub, and dead shrubbery, illustrating a land in turmoil.
Transposing the famed Macbeth to a group of schoolgirls may seem unorthodox and yet it made perfect sense. Undoubtedly, an entrancing piece of theatre.
Photos by Ellie Trace