Review: Macbeth, Southwark Playhouse

Flabbergast Theatre’s impressionistic treatment of Macbeth might alarm purists but also contains some moments of real beauty at Southwark Playhouse

“Are you a man?”

From the moment you walk into Southwark Playhouse’s Large space, you know that this isn’t going to be your average Macbeth. Caked in dried-out grey mud, the company already occupy the space in a frenzy of mime and movement, a pre-echo of what is to come, an unnerving scene-setting. And as Flabbergast Theatre’s work begins, it doesn’t really resolve into anything more conventional either.

A devised take on Shakespeare’s tragedy, this ensemble-based production draws on Flabbergast’s background in puppetry, clown, mask, and physical theatre to create their own unique interpretation, and one which shifts even from night to night, as the key roles are shared – I saw Simon Gleave as Macbeth, the night before saw director and designer Henry Maynard in the role.

Perhaps it isn’t the version to take a newbie to the play to but then again, perhaps it is. A certain degree of narrative clarity is sacrificed here and there but in some ways, if you let go of what you think you know about the play, there’s a route into rediscovering it through this company’s eyes and ears, through the visceral emotion evoked in its more magical moments.

This production is at its strongest when it carves its own path. Evoking something of the astonishing work of Song of the Goat, folk-inflected music draws us across the ages into a timeless space with pounding drums, mesmeric ensemble movement (from Matej Matejka) and imaginative text work. A real sense of the eerily supernatural pervades, with the witches ever-present and ever-manipulating.

Other aspects are a touch more challenging, making the Porter a vaudevillian clown doesn’t make him any less annoying tbh, and the interminable dullness of most of Act 4 Scene 3 somehow remains intact as Malcolm and Macduff drone on (or is that just me?!).

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (with interval)
Macbeth is booking at Southwark Playhouse until 8th April

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