Take one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays, throw in an East London tower block, add a sprinkle of suspense and simmer for 12 hours. No, it’s not the witches’ most recent potion, it’s the thought process of RIFT creatives Felix Mortimer and Joshua Nawras when they decided to make an immersive theatre experience out of the Bard’s biggest and most sinister tragedy. Sounds great, but unfortunately in practice, the whole thing fell flat, leaving the audience stumbling into the Saturday morning sun utterly bemused.
Guided all the way from the witches’ coven to the overthrow of Macbeth and ascension of Malcolm, RIFT certainly thought of an imaginative way to tell the age-old story. Oddly enough, they decided to set the performance in Borduria, a fictional Eastern European country, meaning the poor actors had to adopt accents throughout, with a range of success. There were continual references to Scotland – after asking several of the characters, the relationship between Borduria and Scotland was never clarified. Indeed, setting the play anywhere other than Scotland seemed to have no discernible use whatsoever.
We were guided around in groups of 10, moving from bar to dining room to TV room, watching looped news charting the basic storyline. As we sat in front of the television, the actors popped in and delivered soliloquies or took us by the hand and spoke directly to us: most notably, Macbeth (Michael Adams) and Lady Macbeth (Elly Condron) delivered stand-out, absorbing performances. Lady Macbeth, on the brink of suicide, took me to the bedroom and made me lay with her while she sobbed in anguish – the first time that’s happened to me in a while.
…yet there was no suspense or tension to power our movements…
Dinner was a dramatic affair, with the three witches making their second appearance of the night while we sampled traditional Bordurian cuisine, aka beetroot soup and banana trifle. The ghost of Banquo was a delightfully chilling moment, but that’s all we saw of the play’s gore and violence: the fight that brought Malcolm to power and the deaths of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth weren’t performed in front of the audience, a grave error that made the play much tamer than it is.
The production’s fatal flaw was the constant movement for no apparent reason: I must have walked several kilometres up and down stairs, from bar to guest room to slightly odd party, and yet there was no suspense or tension to power our movements. The force and terror that drives Macbeth was completely absent, making it increasingly difficult to buy the Bordurian fantasy.
…In fact, the most scary aspect of the half-day experience was thinking I might never leave…
We were promised the final showdown between Macbeth and Malcolm in the morning, however we went to bed with Malcolm already king, so what, we asked, could possibly happen in the morning? Nothing at all, as it happened. We stood on the roof of the Balfron Tower at 8am on a Saturday morning, eating a breakfast of fruit, croissant and coffee, watching a coronation that lasted two minutes and culminated in being told to go home an hour earlier than expected. In fact, the most scary aspect of the half-day experience was thinking I might never leave. When I did, it was with the feeling of a deflated balloon and a stiff back worse than you get from standing in the yard at The Globe for three hours.
This ambitious production meant well but left more questions unanswered than not: why wasn’t there more of the blood and gore for which Macbeth is so well-loved? Why was it set in an Eastern European country? Most of all, why did the audience have to stay the night at all?
Macbeth is on at Balfron Tower until 16th August.