The Watermill Ensemble’s Macbeth is a rock ‘n roll and sexy production that finds favour with its public. Under the direction of Paul Hart, Shakespeare’s plays are given a cinematic flair and engaging performances.
Macbeth, played competently by Billy Postlethwaite, enters the scene in combat uniform and blood on his face. The military setting gives a sense of comradery, aggression, and manliness. This makes more convincing Hart’s casting according to character rather than gender.
The production moves away from the military world to plunge Macbeth into the criminal underworld. Macbeth’s castle is a seedy hotel. The neon sign ‘hotel’ leaves out the letters O and T to spell H—EL. In the style of a mafia boss, Macbeth hands out money from a bag to professional killers to get Banquo murdered. Accordingly, Lady Macbeth is the femme fatale of a mafia boss. Reminiscent of Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface without her grace, Lady Macbeth dons a red jumpsuit dress. The witches are in overly stretched mini dresses that conjures a brothel rather than ghosts.
The jazzy music juxtaposed to the murder of Banquo is effective and striking. Music is protagonist in Hart’s productions. It creates the scene and provides commentary on the action. Sadly, not all the cast have the powerful voices of Billy Postlethwaite and Emma Barclay, here playing Lady Macduff. The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black lacks the necessary grit.
Postlethwaite is a rough and tough army man. He has an animalesque energy. He is intense and captivating, but the tone of the production lacks subtlety making the soliloquies of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth a parenthesis in a Hollywood thriller. They are lustful, not sensual. They are all speaking verse comfortably but the excessive agitation puts the focus on action rather than atmosphere and meaning.
Like Hart’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth gets stripped of Shakespeare. There is no tension between Macbeth’s murderous ambition and his guilt. Macbeth is blood-soaked from beginning to end. There is no discernible change or conflict, only a crescendo of paranoia. Emma McDonald is convincing as Lady Macbeth, but the supposedly sexy lingerie turns the tragedy into farce. Alas, for all its sound and fury, Hart’s Macbeth signifies nothing.