Theatre Review: Macbeth at the Playhouse

Words: Kevin Stanley
Friday 09 June 2023
reading time: min, words

Kevin Stanley reviews a wildly different take on the Scottish play


Following a successful showing at the Edinburgh Festival in 2022 and a month long run at London’s Southwark Playhouse earlier this year, Flabbergast Theatre bring their wildly different approach to the Scottish play to Nottingham Playhouse.

This new adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth combines live music, puppetry, a clown replacing the role of the night porter, and a good deal of physical theatre.

Shakespeare’s tragic play of unfettered ambition, regicide and witchcraft is oft performed. And for every performance there is a slightly different spin on the story, the performance, and the direction. It’s perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and well-loved plays, and naturally that is why it’s performed so frequently.

How to take this material and make it fresh is a challenge in itself, but it’s a task that Artistic Director Henry Maynard (who also plays Macbeth) is extremely capable. This new treatment is seriously intense, full of energy, and at times truly visceral – for example whilst it is not sexually explicit, Macbeth and his Lady, upon seeing each other for the first time after the battle and being re-joined with one another after time apart, do appear to have a brief coupling as they writhe around in an ecstasy of suggestive poses.


This new treatment is seriously intense, full of energy, and at times truly visceral


Elsewhere, wine poured over characters takes the form of blood, there are of course several stabbings and murders, and when Macbeth takes the role of King there appears to be some sort of a wild party with intermingling and possible implied sexual activities as several characters seem to almost turn into a beast, in celebration of Macbeth’s achievements. And, there are plenty of other wyrd things happening too, including the complete absence of Donalbain.  

It’s not just Macolm’s younger brother who has been erased from history, huge swathes of text have been stripped away too, and at times you’ll question why, as the run time of the play has been filled with some material that might be considered superfluous. The Night Porter (and all of his lines) is replaced entirely by a clown who interacts with the audience. It’s entertaining enough, but not an improvement.

Thankfully key passages and soliloquies are retained and the essence of Macbeth is not lost. Yet at times some of the dialogue is drowned out by music, singing or drums, but it does all add to the atmosphere that creates a lively and immersive production.

If you think you know Macbeth, Flabbergast’s performance will force you to think again. Not everything works perfectly, but credit is certainly due for trying something new and creating what is ultimately an engaging and powerful adaption.

This is no doubt the very sort of bloody, musical and hectic performance that would have been seen on stages 400 years ago. It’s the calibre of production that brings people to Shakespeare, and makes them eager to see more.

The Tragedy of Macbeth is showing at Nottingham Playhouse from Thurs 8 June to Sat 10 June 2023.

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