It’s the Scottish play in Scotland, but also in New York, and in the 80’s – not to mention in the round. There is so much to talk about in BoxedIn Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which went up this week in the StAge. It was, in short, a treat. The performances were captivating without exception: Lydia Seed was thrilling to watch, and left me furious with Shakespeare for not putting Lady Macbeth onstage twice as often as she is. Bailey Fear was exquisitely unbalanced as Macbeth, and he and Seed radiated the toxic, irresistible chemistry which fuels the tragedy from beginning to end. The characters in this play are complicated, and these nuances shone through across the board: the strength and raw emotion of Macduff (Molly Williams); the reluctant, inexplicable charisma of Malcolm (Xavier Atkins); the genuine good nature of Banquo (Henry Roberts), which seems to mark him for death from the start. Ana Fati, Naphysa Awuah, and Cameron Chavers deserve special mention as the witches – evil has never looked so fun.
These performances and many more were supported by brilliant fight choreography, elegant costumes by Noemie Jouas and Elizabeth Duncan, and, of course, formidable tech, overseen by Paul Lancaster. The lighting created some lovely effects – a slab of illuminated smoke in Macbeth’s “is this a dagger” speech, a blood-red glare which flared directly into the audience, and slow, heart-pounding strobing which allowed the witches to move unseen across the stage, so that they seemed to vanish and reappear inches from Macbeth. The sound design by Grace Cowie and Annabel Steele was equally thrilling, with classic 80’s tunes distorted to chilling effect (I’ll never hear “New York, New York” the same way again). Everything about the production was big – so big that only an exceptionally solid foundation of thoughtful acting from the whole cast and brilliant direction from Daniel Jonusas could have pulled it off. The show was full of wonderful directorial decisions, my personal favourite being Hecate’s (Georgina Savage) insertion into the banquet scene. The moment I realized who she was and why she was onstage may well have been the moment I fell in love with this production.
The modern setting managed to be the greatest strength and greatest weakness of this show. It allowed for delightfully imaginative moments such as the witches’ voices coming through office telephones, the haze of drugs and alcohol over Macbeth’s hallucinations, and Banquo’s muzak-backed murder in an elevator (at his line, “give us a light there, ho,” the murderers produced a cigarette lighter, and I beamed). The text itself was largely unaltered in spite of the resetting. This worked well in the first half, where references to kingship and castles served to draw interesting parallels between feudal Scotland and corporate America. In the second half, however, when armies began to assemble, it slowly became less believable. I found myself increasingly distracted by the idea of guerrilla warfare on Wall Street. On top of all this there was the immersive opening, in which the audience was invited to mingle with the characters – fun, but not at all necessary to a production which already had so much innovation going on. It felt decidedly separate from the play itself – the audience was relegated to a purely spectatorial role as soon as the action began – and did not add anything to my experience.
But these are minor faults in what was one of the most enjoyable evenings of theatre I have had in a long time. I applaud this entire team for its breathtaking ambition, congratulate them on a job well done, and thank them for doing right by my favourite play. It was, truly, “something wicked” in the most wonderful way.