Macbeth in Silence

May 24 2015 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩    Noisy experiment

Hidden Door Festival 2015: Fri 22 – Fri 29 May 2015

It’s hardly silence in which the Ludens Ensemble perform their three person take on Macbeth, seen in its first work-in-progress outing in the Peely Room of the Hidden Door Festival.

It is just that it is performed without spoken dialogue. From time to time, choice verses of Shakespeare’s text and (arguably more important to clarity) his stage directions are projected in silent movie style onto a cloth on stage.

Melanie Jordan - Lady Macbeth learned of her husband's ambitions. Photo: Weronika Bachleda-Baca

Melanie Jordan – Lady Macbeth learning of her husband’s ambitions. Photo: Weronika Bachleda-Baca

There is plenty of noise, even if it is not as much as anticipated when performer Adam Tompa first enters to unearth a witch’s cauldron of microphones centre stage. Soon he is rubbing and scraping them, banging them on the floor then, joined by Marcus Roche and Melanie Jordan, using various feedback pedals, creating a sound montage of mayhem from the stage.

But this is no sonic art experiment. Once the discord is established, the tone set with Moyra Campbell and Craig Kirk’s abstract visuals providing variously bloody and other-wordly atmospheres as they are projected onto the naked, peeling walls around the stage, DJ Vangelis Makriyannakis takes over most of the noise creation, letting the performers concentrate on the drama.

With the words gone from their mouths, it is the abstract qualities of the characters on which the performers – physical performance specialists all three – can now concentrate, with performances which use physicality, dance and gesture to strong and compelling effect.

Roche gives a vainglorious pomposity to Duncan, waiting for news from the battle in the opening scenes. Tompa takes Macbeth from the glow of success in battle, through temptation by the witches to the point where he falls under Lady Macbeth’s thrall and then on to murderous, bloody rule.

Considerable talents

And therein lies one of the production’s strongest points. By letting the lines appear to the side, the performers don’t just concentrate on the characters but enhance them. In particular it gives Melanie Jordan room to exert her considerable talents on the role of Lady Macbeth.

The whole scene where she receives her husband’s letters telling of his good fortune is possibly the most successful in the whole piece. The cawing of crows and thumping on the door, giving way to her reading of the letters: boring at first until they foretell his future role as king. At which point her imagination takes over and she moves from being a puppet of her husband’s anticipation to being his puppet master.

Marcus Roche, Melanie Jordan and Adam Tompa. Photo: Weronika Bachleda-Baca

Marcus Roche, Melanie Jordan and Adam Tompa. Photo: Weronika Bachleda-Baca

Then there is her flirting with Duncan, the insinuation that it goes a little further than is shown while Macbeth looks on like a little boy lost, and her orchestration of the murders.

Of course, with only three performers and a large cast of characters to create, there is plenty of doubling as each performer takes on a variety of the lesser roles. But director Philippos Philippou ensures that there is never any doubt over which character is which, using Alice Wilson’s simple, often skeletal costumes wisely to help keep the story going.

The set itself – also Wilson’s work – is cleverly done, using the screen as both a place for projection and a place behind which characters can go – off to England in the case of Malcolm. She also makes interesting use of polythene sheeting to suggest dreams or death. Particularly useful in the feast scene when Banquo returns to visit Macbeth and grabs him in a manner which makes explicit his taunt over whose progeny will be kings hereafter.

It doesn’t all work, however. There is much greater clarity for the opening scenes while the later scenes feeling rushed and under-developed. Having established the characters so well, Philippou needs to allow them more space to evolve. And at points, the coming of Birnam Wood to Dunsinane in particular, the use of the stage direction slides is almost comedic.

This is, however, still a work in progress. One which has huge potential and collapses the whole of Macbeth into a interval-free hour and a half. This surely has much more to give as it works its way to future glory in its fully realised form.

Running time 1 hour 30 minutes
Hidden Door Festival 2015: Peely Room Theatre
The Old Street Lighting Depot, King’s Stables Road, EH1 2JY.
Friday 22 – Friday 29 May 2015
Fri-Sun: 9.30pm; Mon, Fri: 8.45pm (no perfs Tue 26 -Thurs 28).

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