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MACBETH – Stratford Circus, London.

gal-tara-arts-macbeth-lead-image-c-talula-sheppardTara Arts’ greatest success with their production of Macbeth is to make a well known, frequently performed play feel novel. Their version of ‘The Scottish Play’ channels all the original themes of the play – the dangers of unchecked ambition, the poisonous nature of guilt and paranoia, and self-fulfilling prophecies – but gives it a unique and modern flavour.

Director Jatinder Verma gives Macbeth a new setting. Rather than a battle for a literal throne, Verma has turned Macbeth into a battle for leadership within a British-Asian family. The play is still as dramatic and gruesome as you would expect, but it takes place on a smaller scale and seems less fantastical than many productions. In fact, the new setting makes the anxieties and doubts expressed by the characters (especially Macbeth and Lady Macbeth) seem more authentic and believable. What’s more, re-told this way, the play becomes more relatable. The play is no longer about the murderous intentions of Thanes and Kings, people most of us never meet, but about members of the same extended family (a wealthy and powerful family, but a family all the same). All in all, this directorial decision of Verma’s works very well.

The traces of Asian culture lacing the play are also interesting and impressive. The three witches are portrayed as Hijras, people who identify as neither male nor female but as a third gender. Dressed in glittering sarees and delivering Shakespeare’s lines as Indian songs, the three Hijras are very enjoyable. This great new twist also (perhaps surprisingly) fits into Macbeth utterly seamlessly. Very occasionally the humorous aspects of the witches’ scenes feel a little silly, but on the whole, and especially in their second appearance, the Hijras’ playful ways make them seem invulnerable.

Macbeth is a violent play, and the fight scenes in Tara Arts’ production are particularly brutal. The grief shown by McDuff (Umar Pasha) when he hears that his family have been murdered is affecting and provides a nice contrast to Macbeth’s (Robert Mountford) despair at his wife’s death. The two actors do well to convey the characters’ very different reactions. Mountford’s delivery of the soliloquy that follows Lady Macbeth’s death is especially impressive. Mountfort manages to suggest that there is regret, a deeply felt agony, perhaps even a suicidal feeling hiding underneath Macbeth’s outwardly emotionless reaction.

Music plays a big part in Tara Arts’ production. A beat-boxing drummer is permanently on-stage providing a driving soundtrack and occasionally interacting with the actors. At first, the music is a little distracting, but once you’ve become accustomed to it, it’s easy to appreciate what an excellent job it does giving the play an exciting pace. This fast pace means some of the great lines loose a little of their gravitas, and no speech really has a lasting impact. However, if this is the cost of putting on a genuinely exciting and fresh-feeling production, it is worth paying. It’s not easy to make an old play feel new, it’s not easy to make Macbeth feel modern and relevant, but Tara Arts have done this and made it look effortless.

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Reviewed 27/03/15

By Andrea White

26th – 28th March 2015
Stratford Circus, Theatre Square, London, E15 1BX.

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Details of future tour dates and locations can be found at: www.tara-arts.com.

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