The Macbeth Inquiry

Aug 17 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆       Hit-and-miss

theSpace @ Niddry St (Venue 9): Mon 15 – Sat 20 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

The Macbeth Inquiry, from Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company at theSpace @ Niddry Street for the middle week of the Fringe, is a decidedly uneven but enjoyable production.

The temptation to mess about with Macbeth is one that few of us have been able to resist; this modernised version, with plenty of added humour, is just one in a long line.

Maddy Brown as Lady Macbeth. PicL EUSC

The play is written by Izzy Salt (who also directs), Clara Wessely and Freddie Stone – although there is plenty of the original Macbeth in there too.

Having three authors is not necessarily a bad thing. However, this gives every sign of being a compromise between a fairly straight Shakespeare, a modern comedy loosely based on Macbeth, and a sketch show. All of which are fine, but perhaps not simultaneously.

The modernisation of Shakespeare brings with it the usual problems. Parallels with contemporary events do not always work; the machinations of the Westminster government may echo medieval struggles for succession, but only up to a point.

There is certainly no reason why a 21st century Lady Macbeth figure should be fixated on her husband achieving power rather than looking for it herself. Doing well in a Select Committee is a poor equivalent for slaughtering Vikings in battle.

And, after seeing a Prime Minister refuse to admit to wrongdoing even when found guilty of breaking the law, the idea that one could be brought down by a manufactured scandal (even one involving inflatable dolls based on Angela Merkel) seems almost quaint.

descent into nihilism

There is murder later on, however, when the story veers much closer to Shakespeare. In all honesty, this is when it is strongest, with the excerpts from the original impressing.

Archie Turnbull’s command of both the rhythm and the meaning of the soliloquies is enviable, with his portrayal of Macbeth’s descent into nihilism notably convincing. Maddy Brown’s performance of the verse as Lady Macbeth is equally strong.

As always, however, when someone interpolates fragments of Shakespeare into their own work, the join is not difficult to see.

The more comedic elements of the piece, featuring an energetic Ted Ackery as a bombastic newsreader and Rorke Wilson as a cocaine-sniffing over-sharer of a newsreader, are frequently funny, but so broad that they rarely seem to fit with everything else.

Jasper Fisher Turner’s Banquo is honest and upstanding, while Tom Gardiner’s mysterious butler, who takes on some of the witches’ function, is always interesting.

In many ways, the butler is the most intriguing new thing about the production; more of this thoughtful direction might have worked, rather than the scattergun approach which comes off as decidedly hit-and-miss.

There is plenty of energy on display, however, together with some genuinely good Shakespeare, and enough novelty to entertain.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
theSpace @ Niddry St (Upper Theatre), Niddry St, EH1 1TH (Venue 9)
Monday 15 – Saturday 20 August 2022
Daily: 15:55
Information and tickets Book here.

Facebook: @eushakespeare


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