Volcano, Macbeth - Director’s Cut

Review in Issue 11-3 | Autumn 1999

Drawing a parallel between two sets of murderous couples – Lord and Lady Macbeth and Fred and Rosemary West – might seem an interesting conceit at first. For this dramatic exploration into psychosis and violence the comparison would seem to make sense. However, clearly, the impulses underpinning each set of violent crimes are not the same. The Macbeths are propelled by greed and ambition, whilst the Wests were driven by nothing more than sheer perversity.

Volcano’s radically stripped-down adaptation of Shakespeare’s text seems fatally flawed from the start. Which is a shame because this production contains some moments of sheer theatrical brilliance. Fem Smith – with her imposing physical presence and rich-as-a-fruitcake voice – was born for the role of Lady Macbeth. Andrew Jones’s design (blood red drapes) and Stewart Lucas’ dark rumbling soundscape create an atmosphere of brooding menace. But this production is frustrating because it reveals Volcano simultaneously at their best and worst.

It all starts to go wrong shortly after Duncan’s murder. Suddenly what has (up until now) been a stylish and surprisingly straightforward two-handed presentation of the original play, becomes a full-blown exercise in alienation. Strobes flicker, thrash punk plays at ear-splitting decibels, and what follows from now until the end of the show is a chaotic presentation of ‘madness’. Shouting and throwing furniture around does not necessarily make for compelling drama. All the subtlety evident up to Duncan’s killing is now lost and the audience is treated to a demonstration of psychosis which is impossible to connect with. Hence, all empathy is lost.

When Paul Davies smashes a plastic doll against a table to represent the slaying of Macduff’s children, the audience actually laugh (those of them that haven’t already walked out that is). Nigel Charock’s direction is ill-judged. Why strip the original text down to its bare bones, only to then chuck loads of extraneous ‘tricksy’ effects at it?

Presenting Artists
Presenting Venue
Date Seen
  1. Jul 1999

This article in the magazine

Issue 11-3
p. 21 - 22