Tired of watching traditional Shakespeare? Don’t fancy standing-up outside at the Globe? Looking for an innovative interpretation of his classics? Then Belt Up Theatre’s latest production, Macbeth, is for you.
Set in the Houses of Detention in Clerkenwell, this all-male, 90-minute production takes place in the cells and vaults of what used to be an underground prison. The dark and dingy space is lit only by the soft flames of candles, emphasising the sinister tones already present in Macbeth. As we follow the actors around the labyrinthine passages of the cells, it feels as if we are not only submerged in the castle of Inverness, but also trapped in the nefarious minds of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth themselves.
The play opens with a haunting and mournful lamentation sung by the witches – a soundscape which becomes a refrain throughout. The promenade staging is a daring move, it means that for those audience members stuck at the back of the moving crowd, beginnings of scenes are lost in the quest to ‘catch-up’. Other than that, the staging, though minimalist, is effective, and works as a site-specific performance.
…the unexpected entrance of a fully nude Banquo…
With only four actors, all except Dominic Allen (Macbeth) are required to switch between characters. Though the transitions are handled well, the characters never feel fully realised due to the constant switching back and forth. Nevertheless, Marcus Emerton gives a stoic performance of Duncan and a sensitive interpretation of Macduff. Allen is a compelling Macbeth. He becomes most alive in the banquet scene where his madness culminates in his greatest mental breakdown, although, the unexpected entrance of a fully nude Banquo somehow detracts from the intensity of this scene.
Lady Macbeth’s character, performed by James Wilkes, is somewhat of a disappointment. She is neither the strong, empowered woman we expect from Shakespeare’s text, nor is she particularly feminine, and the emotional connection between her and Macbeth is awkward and forced.
The play as a whole offers a unique take on this well-known tale, and the site-specificity of the performance makes for an enjoyable and worthwhile evening out.
Macbeth runs until the 8th May