Second Age Theatre Company – The Helix, DCU
Reviewed by Imelda Minnock
Out of all William Shakespeare’s vast body of work, it is Macbeth that reads most like the modern thriller. Recently, the Second Age Theatre Company put on this greatest and bloodiest of tragedies.
The awe-inspiring first scene with the Witches is done with plenty of dry ice, and , interestingly, slow-motion contemporary dance. This slow-motion dancing continues throughout the play for every battle scene. The Witches, however, are basically men with beards in soldiers’ uniforms and are anti-climactic to say the least. The set was minimalist, containing just four glass-panelled doors at the back of the stage. It is nonetheless effective and the simple act of opening the doors transforms the stage into the courtyard. Lighting was similarly contemporary, with exposed “traffic-light” structures beaming across the stage, and dimmed down as necessary.
The play moved along fast, often running from one scene into the next. The battle scenes were represented by slow-moving contemporary dances, with handfuls of red sand used as blood. The haunting “Videotape” from Radiohead’s “Rainbows” album was played over them. The tortured, haunting rock was used to great effect.
The actors were consummate professionals, never speaking a line wrong or making any visible mistakes. The actor that played Macbeth was a tall man with a deep voice and he fared much better as a tyrant, displaying visible paranoia and lust for power. He failed, however, to show Macbeth’s true journey from powerful warrior to a lonely, delusional but defiant creature at the end of the play.
The performance of Lady Macbeth was inspiring. She portrayed fully the ambitious, driven, evil woman who is torn down by her own conscience into a weak, pitiful and remorseful character. The scene where Macbeth arrives home to Inverness and meets Lady Macbeth was one of the most believable and timeless scenes, full of vitality and utterly captivating. The actors displayed the deeply bonded, loving, egalitarian relationship beautifully and touchingly.
Duncan’s actor was also the Porter. He was much more comfortable in the ribald talk of the porter, and he did a fantastic job of making the Porter’s speech humorous for a modern audience, through the use of his tone of voice and gestures. He never really hit the right note with Duncan- he came across as a very jovial, but volatile, Mafia boss, rather than the genuine ,gracious and loving king. He exuded slyness, not regality.
Banquo’s actor was good, and played his role admirably but it was hard to get past the fact he was only about five foot with a pot belly. It was impossible to reconcile his appearance with that of the brave, fearsome warrior spoken of.
Lighting and set, while undoubtedly being very contemporary and minimalist, were nonetheless effective. Costumes, however lacked continuity or clarity. The men were dressed in old-fashioned soldiers’ uniforms. Lady Macbeth, on the other hand, was dressed in a 70’s style jumpsuit. It was completely incongruous and impacted on your ability to engage with the character, supposedly a 15th– century lady, in a blatantly modern blue suit with diamante. The Witches were also disappointing. They would easily have fitted in as colleagues of Macbeth and Banquo on the battlefield, dressed as they were in soldiers’ outfits.
“Videotape” was a wonderful choice of music as an overture to Banquo’s death as well as the final battle scene. The most inspired decision by the production company was to stage the battle scenes in slow-motion contemporary dance. It set the scene far better than any mock sword fights ever could and they were in truth captivating in their own right.
This production of Macbeth was enjoyable. I would recommend it to anyone who has studied Macbeth or has an interest in Shakespearean literature. Thankfully, they didn’t try to mess around with the essence of the play too much and the actors portrayed the bloody tragedy with great skill.