Review: Macbeth, Big Telly Theatre

Not quite ‘when shall we three Zoom again’, Big Telly Theatre’s imaginative online version of Macbeth has some impressive moments

“Present fears are less than horrible imaginings”

With its cast members scattered across Belfast, Deal, Deptford, Dublin and London, it’s a remarkable achievement in and of itself that this production of Macbeth can exist at all in these Covid-19 times. But founder and artistic director of Big Telly Theatre Zoe Seaton has been quick off the mark to explore the creative opportunities of these constraints and this marks her fifth lockdown production.

And you can see how deftly experienced hands are shaping this new kind of experience. An inspired bit of pre-show business brilliantly skewers the government’s daily Covid briefings as it introduces its own version of track and trace which is implemented on some unsuspecting audience members. It also frames the world of this production as a plaything of the weird sisters, the ones who are truly in charge here.

It is a bold gambit, and one which works intermittently here. The moody monochrome of the opening section, underscored by the Celtic murmurs of Garth McConaghie’s score, have a distinct and dystopian vision that cuts through the heavily trimmed version of the play we’re getting here. But despite an imaginative mode of transformation into a world of technicolour for the coronation, there’s an increasing sense of too much being thrown at the production.

The incorporation of audience cameras to become waving parade members or boozing banquet guests soon wears pretty thin, an unnecessary distraction rather than an essential part of the production. And introducing more and more effects can’t cover the central issue of distance between the Macbeths (Dennis Herdman and Nicky Harley) who battle bravely to suggest intimacy. Any criticisms have to be balanced against the pioneering innovation here though and for that ambition, there’s much to commend.

Running time: 70 minutes (without interval)
Macbeth headlines the Belfast International Arts Festival 14th – 17th October then transfers to Creation Theatre from 21st– 31st October

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