Theatre in Wales

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Lots of gore and lots of laughs

Macbeth

Illyria Theatre Company , Chepstow Castle and touring... , August-02-06
Macbeth by Illyria Theatre Company You don’t expect one of the bloodiest tragedies ever written to be wrapped up in comic clothes. Chortles generally don’t feature when drama’s deadliest duo set out on their reign of terror.

And definitely not when the story is about a power-mad ruler who takes his cue from supernatural forces and has a slightly dippy randy wife. A bit too close to home, that, especially when lots of people, especially innocent children, get killed in order to bolster the ruler’s power.

But William Finkenrath’s production for Illyria, currently touring the stately ruins of Wales and elsewhere, actually works by making Macbeth into a black comedy – or at least by interweaving the horrific chronicle of murders with more light relief than Shakespeare dreamt of.

It’s not new, of course, lacing the horror with laughter and Illyria’s programme notes refer us to the Greek origins of tragedy, where it’ suggested bawdy humour was part of the entertainment.

So, yes, we have the clownish drunken porter and his slightly obscure rant about equivocation, enlivened by the memorable quips about the deflationary effects of alcohol, always an edgy moment of farce since the audience knows of the Macbeths’ plans to assassinate their king.

But the play’s clown (Adrian Clargo) pops up time and again to give the tragedy a surrealistic slant. He is an unlikely-looking soldier, a thug – and a leading character who gets written out of the plot fairly early on ...

The neat mini coup de theatre here is achieved by having Mr Clargo play, in very serious mode, Banquo, a danger to Macbeth’s plans who is despatched by hired assassins shortly before what was meant to be a jolly banquet. In one of the most famous scenes in Shakespeare, the dead Banquo appears at the table, seen only by Macbeth, a chilling moment that here becomes quite bizarre - because, with Banquo and the fool played by the same actor, the hyperactive Mr Clargo, the surprise guest could be either – and much funny business is made out of this confusion. Is it the clown fooling around, hiding when the rest of the guests look for the object of Macbeth’s horrified recognition, and it’s only Macbeth who sees him as Banquo ?

Mr Clargo also entertains us in the interval with some audience participation. I’m not sure whether the more sedate members of the packed audience at Chepstow castle (where the aristos make their annual foray down from the hills with their Harrods hampers and champers) appreciated his Julian Clary technique of rummaging through their bags and baskets before holding the more striking contents aloft or throwing them randomly among the crowd but it certainly created another kind of edginess.

And actually the serious scenes are well done, too. Toby Gaffney makes a good Macbeth, and is notable the only one who doesn’t double-up – except to help murder Banquo and the Macduff family… although that could be Macbeth himself, perhaps.
Whatever, a nice witty move that again exploits the fact that companies like Illyria have to share over twenty characters between five actors.

Damian Davis, in whom I think I detected a Welsh accent, certainly made the most of his disparate roles. As a nose-in-the-air Duncan he looked a bit too like Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cawdor (though an early hint of the irreverence to come), but he was an entertaining Scottish Doctor and a very good Macduff, managing the potentially toe-curling scene where he hears of the murder of his family with exceptional conviction.

Good fight scenes, a clear storyline, lots of gore, lots of laughs – what else do you want ?


Macbeth is at Plas Newydd (Aug 1), The Welsh Wildlife Centre Cilgerran (Aug 3), Narberth Castle (Aug 10) and Abergavenny Castle (Aug 11 & 12).

Reviewed by: David Adams

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