Macbeth

Mon, Feb 27, 2012, 00:00

The Helix, Dublin

There are some 42 mentions of blood in Macbeth, a play so lusty for the stuff that it stains every unconscionable deed and each rueful thought.

“It will have blood,” says Macbeth, the recently promoted Thane who is encouraged to usurp the throne of Scotland by a coven of witches and their newest recruit, his wife; “they say, blood will have blood”.

Its role in Second Age’s stylised new production is so significant it should have its own dressing room.

Blood, or its clever abstraction, informs director David Horan’s aesthetic: actors grab fistfuls of red sand from silver dishes and send spumes flying from each others’ throats. But Horan’s more discreet fascination is with the play’s sense of time (59 mentions, in the unlikely event this comes up in the exam). Events are foreshadowed and repeated, like prophecies fulfilled, while the witches are malevolent spirits that reanimate twitching corpses.

Under the precise movement direction of Bryan Burroughs, actors often appear first in freeze-frame, then accelerate into a scene, as though all action has been untimely ripp’d.

These are all riveting effects, exquisitely realised against Maree Kearns’s panelled glass windows which conspire with Sinead McKenna’s lights to conceal, reflect or distort. But when the blur of action subsides, it begins to feel like a series of artfully considered motifs rather than an overarching interpretation of the play.

This has some consequence for Will Irvine’s Macbeth and Maeve Fitzgerald as his conspirator and manager, Lady Macbeth. Both are fine actors with magnetic presence, but they often approach their speeches as breakneck tumults of thought; when Fitzgerald, hardened with resolve, speaks of killing her suckling infant, Irvine doesn’t seem to be listening, and various exchanges suffer from inattention.

That also explains why Damian Kearney’s porter, always a subversive character invoking the world outside the play, is allowed to almost derail the whole project. His unscripted gags are very funny, but there’s a fine line between shattering the illusion and undermining a performance, and this goes one dagger joke too far.

At such times it’s easy to think that the production distrusts either the play or its audience, the majority of whom will be school students. Its greatest worry, then, is not one of reinterpretation – it serves the play loyally otherwise – but about ever becoming boring. Hence Irvine affects a strange stilted walk, as though the power has gone to his leg, while Fitzgerald’s remarkable depiction of Lady M’s decline demonstrates that nothing in her sanity becomes her like the leaving of it. Life, says Macbeth, finally swindled by fate, is a tale told by an idiot, “full of sound and fury/ Signifying nothing”.

This arresting production certainly makes all the right noises, but it doesn’t quite weave them into music.

Runs until Mar 9 at the Helix, Dublin, then tours to Town Hall Theatre, Galway (Mar 13-15); Everyman Palace, Cork (Mar 21-22), Theatre Royal, Waterford (Mar 27); Civic Theatre, Dublin (Mar 13-15)