Macbeth at Jackson’s Lane: an ‘ambitious adaptation’

Shakespeare adaptations seem brave in an age where every option for recontextualisation feels as though it’s been done. Not so according to director Mary Swan whose ambitious adaptation of Macbeth takes place in the relentless cocaine-fuelled capitalist whirlwind that was the 1980’s financial sector. 

Granted, with the era of Netflix’s House of Cardsand the concerning reality of the smudgy lines between financial supremacy and political power Macbeth is knocking at the right doors. Many adaptations also feel as though the Bard’s text has simply been lifted from the page and pasted over a contemporary or futuristic set, such as Rufus Norris’ Macbeth at the National Theatre last year. Swan however appears to have identified certain parallels between the Scottish play and her target time period and focused mainly on accentuating those, most markedly: recklessness.

Of course, she isn’t the first to identify this characteristic in the play’s eponymous protagonist, but to draw a line between Macbeth and the emerging capitalists of the 1980s felt well justified. After all, the piece seems to ask, what are economic downturns if not the self-inflicted tragedies of self-motivated power chasers with little desire to contemplate consequences? So, the groundwork made the cut. 

Upon taking my seat in the auditorium I was also impressed by Katherine Heath’s set. It was hard to come into this play without some idea of what you were about to see because of the LCD screens reading stock market information for the play’s two competing corporations. The set was also made up of three transparent plastic boxes about the size of a phone booth, which are  variously made use of as beds, room partitions, a table for the notorious feast and (believe it or not) a phone booth. For this reason, I was pleased with it as it was just semiotically well equipped enough to give me a flavour of the story without going overboard. However the music was, for lack of a better descriptor, cheesy: the way it faded out at the beginning of scenes induced cringey recollections of college end-of-year shows.

The ‘stunning’ if ‘terrifying’ Alexandra Afryea as Lady Macbeth.

The acting was the most curious thing about the show. Alexandra Afryea gave a stunning performance as Lady Macbeth, demonstrating a powerful vocal prowess and keenly carrying this infamously heavy character throughout, terrifying a group of children in the audience with her triumphant sleepwalking scene. Umar Butt stood out next, showing a masterful ability to multirole, taking on Banquo, Ross and one of the witches. His ability with accents lent him a unique dexterity with bringing the comic to this macabre play’s characters, while his performance as Banquo’s ghost had me utterly transfixed and petrified. He worked well in the murky area between funny and weird, elevating the supernatural elements of Macbeth to a place beyond mere backdrop, giving them a creative life of their own. 

It was a close call between Butt and Danny Charles who multiroled as Duncan, Macduff and Lennox. He stood out as the antipode to Macbeth, assuming with confidence all of the main character’s antagonists. Thanks to Charles’ knack for characterisation there was no confusion about who was who, and his slick style in this manner allowed him to conjure up a broad spectrum of emotions, having me laughing, biting my nails and covering my mouth at different points throughout the play. In this light Charles felt like the villain you couldn’t help but feel drawn to, no doubt helped along by his sensitivity to the inner lives of his characters. 

The most unusual thing about this otherwise successful piece was the performance given by Macbeth himself, played by Riz Meedin, whose acting was inexplicably jaded. It bothered me somewhat to see the ferocity passed to him by his Lady Macbeth be so indifferently discarded, and his lack of enthusiasm stood out against Charles’ commitment to assuming his enemies on stage. A surreal moment of his performance was watching the character take cocaine and go on with the scene with no apparent alterations whatsoever, and there were even moments when tripped over lines were retroactively corrected without the slightest bit of creativity. 

Overall the play was well put together, and considering its short run, well-rehearsed and slick. Its premise was ambitious and relatively original, and for the most part the actors were committed and supported each other. But it was difficult to ignore the half-hearted performance of Macbeth himself in amongst an otherwise industrious ensemble. With a touch more determination this could definitely have been improved on and would have tightened the piece.

3.5/5  

Macbeth was at Jackson’s Lane on the 21st and 22nd of March, 2019.

Photograph credit: Pamela Raith


Rex is studying for a BA in English and Drama at Goldsmiths. He is especially interested in new political writing, theatre directing and contemporary French and German theatre.

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