Theatre in Wales

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Beautiful verse with blunt, stylised, violent profanity

MACBETH KILL BILL SHAKESPEARE

South Hill Park in association with The Wales Theatre Company , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , October-14-07
MACBETH KILL BILL SHAKESPEARE by South Hill Park in association with The Wales Theatre Company “OK… so what if Tarantino had written Macbeth?” proclaims the tagline of Macbeth Kill Bill Shakespeare – a highly innovative re-presentation of Shakespeare’s infamous Scottish play in the style of the very best of late 20th, early 21st century ultra-slick, ultra-violent vengeance movies, using a mixture of Shakespeare’s text, new and highly modern dialogue, and Tarantino quotes, both faithful and bastardised in a mock Shakespearean style.

The team from Bracknell’s South Hill Park theatre, under the direction of Malachi Bogdanov, played to a packed house on the last date of their Welsh tour. Over three hundred people, many of them teenagers studying the play, sat mesmerised as the action unfolded.

It unfolded on Keith McIntyre’s impressively simple Japanese-style set, which comprised a series of six large paper-backed panels – three across, two up - divided into panes, with the central two capable of rising and descending to reveal pertinent characters and stage-images. The others proved very useful for backlit silhouette-play, particularly of murders or similar antics which Shakespeare never put directly on stage.

Lighting and other visual effects were extremely well-designed and generally well-executed, with the exception of a couple of small delays at unfortunate moments which did rather detract from the moment, but not the piece as a whole. Sound was well deployed, taking a broad sweep through the better part of Tarantino’s soundtracks and using them to great, apposite effect. Similarly, costume was extremely well utilised, of which more later.

Macbeth is well nigh Shakespeare’s shortest play, but its tales of murder, greed and vengeance, spattered with the good intentions of the eponymous antihero’s waning conscience, make it feel a lot longer, usually, and it is not a play which, at first glance, could be done without a voluminous cast. Six people carried this play off – just six – and did so with effortless panache.

Llinos Daniels – a Wales Theatre Company favourite – returned to make a deliciously hard-nosed performance as Lady Macbeth – a vision in sumptuous Japanese kimonos, as well as playing the Witch – ethereal in voice and very Thurmanesque in bloodstained wedding-dress with vast pregnancy bump. Her timing was perfect, her movement fabulous and her delivery utterly convincing.

Mike Rogers carried off his three main parts with tremendous wit but a steely seriousness in cases. As Marvin, the messenger, he was – in his one scene in this role - light, hilarious and deliciously fey. As Duncan – a pastiche of Tarantino’s martial arts master characters, he gave a mildly offputting, but no less stylish performance. The king was a blind, wild-haired swordsman with an horrific but hysterical faux-Japanese lisping accent, gesticulating wildly with his sceptre. As Macduff, he gave a good deal of menacing weight to this role, undertaken in a highly Reservoir Dogs manner – both in terms of performance and costume (a costume style shared by Banquo and Macbeth).

Craig Painting, as Seyton – jobbing porter and sometime assassin – gave a wonderful, almost silent performance. His physical presence was enthralling, his comic timing perfect.

Banquo himself, played by Peter James, was given a very satisfying outing. Portrayed as a massive hard-drug user (which precipitates a fantastically funny movement sequence after the character shoots up, performed to the strains of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’), James expertly walked the fine line between seriously undertaken pastiche and over-the-top tomfoolery. There was a delicacy to his performance which was fascinating. The costume choice to bring Banquo’s ghost back as the gimp from Pulp Fiction was also inspired.

Lucy Tuck, as the schoolgirl Malcolm and Lady Macduff, among others, also put up a good show, though her energy did not always match that of her colleagues.

Richart Tunley, however, in the title role, was an absolute joy to watch onstage, moving seamlessly through the character’s journey with every nuance and extreme of emotion. Also portrayed as a drug user, as was everyone of any significant corruption in the play, his ‘is this a dagger?’ scene was portrayed as a particularly bad trip, always played out on the edge of emotional breakup. His physicality, his vocal delivery, his range was superlative.

You cannot afford to be po-faced, going to see this show. This is a show which demands that you occupy the middle ground between Shakespeare purist and Tarantino purist. It does not pretend to be utterly faithful to either. It mixes beautiful verse with blunt, stylised, violent profanity (particularly when characters respond with lines such as ‘What the f*** are you talking about?’). It portrays hard drug use as a toy of the corrupt, but does not put out a particularly strong message against them – it doesn’t need to. However, Bogdanov and his team have created what I would deem to be one of the great Shakespearean adaptations of recent times, in terms of reeling in new generations and getting them hooked on the Bard, needing a fix every so often. It is testament to their work that the comparatively young audience were mesmerised for the full duration. Funny, slick and breathlessly good-looking, this is a sexy minx of a show, which seduces you into acceptance of both worlds colliding at the business end of a very dodgy drugs deal, and, although you know it shouldn’t, it makes you feel great.

Reviewed by: Paddy Cooper

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