“Macbeth is at its greatest when it takes these audacious liberties with the source material”
Directed by Mary Swan, the Proteus Theatre Company’s version of ‘the Scottish play’ is boldly set in the City in October 1987 just as Black Monday sent financial markets reeling into chaos.
The action takes place in snappy suits, with cocaine snorted off glass tables and dialogue barked into office telephones. The production picks up on the themes of corporate greed and ambition that famously characterise that era. I would have liked them to have done much more with this notion and fully explore those ideas, but the stock exchange context provides a visual backdrop rather than an integral, driving element in how the story unfolds.
A cast of just five actors ambitiously take on all the major parts. Macbeth himself is played by Riz Meedin, who if anything seems a little too casual and unruffled in his delivery to truly carry off the complexity of the role. There’s something missing – an intensity, perhaps. Danny Charles ably tackles Duncan, MacDuff and Lennox, while Umar Butt is fairly solid as Banquo. But all three males are often upstaged by the two female leads. Alexandra Afryea is especially strong as Lady Macbeth and the scene in which she sleepwalks, visibly tormented by her deeds, is perhaps the most memorable of them all. Meanwhile, Jessica Andrade proves herself hugely versatile as Malcolm, Lady MacDuff, the doctor and one of the witches.
It was an inspired choice to play 1980s pop and new-wave music over the sound system between scenes. Bursts of Bronski Beat, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Eurythmics, Japan, Joy Division and The Smiths are highly effective. Better still is the wonderful surprise moment near the beginning when the cast suddenly start moving in time to the stark drum-machine mechanics of ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order. It’s both funny and startling. A later scene, just as powerful, has Jessica Andrade lip-syncing to Prince’s ‘Sign o’ the Times’. Macbeth is at its greatest when it takes these audacious liberties with the source material – those brief instances when it veers off into almost surreal interpretation and embraces the worlds of dance and mime. It’s less successful at delivering the primary narrative. Despite a running time of more than two hours, much of the plot progression felt rushed and disjointed. It’s perhaps inevitable that large chunks of Shakespeare’s writing need to be done away with in any modern adaptation, but it sometimes seemed that these edits were made at the expense of logic or clarity. If you are already familiar with the play in its entirety, though, you’ll find that there’s plenty to enjoy here.
“has all the elements of an excellent show, that is until it comes to a very abrupt ending, with no real resolution”
When thinking of the future, we often imagine sleek outfits, efficient and sophisticated machinery, and a generally effortless way of living. This is decidedly not so in Emma Williams’ ‘Intronauts’ where temperamental machinery is still being given a good kick to get it working again, and that “deep itching in my anus” is still a daily struggle.
Set in the near-future, our unnamed protagonist has purchased a micro-cleaner who lives inside him and with whom he has an ongoing dialogue via messenger, directing her to resolve any internal queries. The aforementioned anus itch, for example, is settled with a good cleaning.
Employer and Intronaut never have any face-to-face interaction, and whilst physically they couldn’t be any closer (one is inside the other, after all), they are both deeply lonely. This seems to be a satirically delivered comment on technology’s simultaneous ability to bring us closer, and yet further apart than ever.
Vacillating endlessly over the right background colour for a logo design, trying and failing to learn simple dance steps (alone), and playing what appears to be a very boring, but somehow stressful game of ‘highfive’ with his computer, Adam Fuller imparts a relatable melancholy in the pointlessness and isolation of his activities. He wears a dressing gown throughout, which may be intended to imply a comfy futuristic uniform, in which case, more effort might have been made, or, seeing as he appears to be working from home, he’s showcasing the freelance life, in which case it’s spot-on.
Emma Keaveney-Roys, playing the Intronaut, is funny and endearing, using brilliant physical comedy throughout. Due to the structure of the play, she can only communicate something to the audience by talking to herself which could easily feel forced, but comes off as natural and engaging.
Chris Pirie seems to claim the role of ‘special effects’, and he does so deftly, playing the stage-hand, puppeteer, and various body cells in inflatable costumes (as well as set and costume designer, according to the credits!) Whilst the set is fairly basic, Pirie brings it to life, from characterful movements of ‘smart’ technology, to tracheal cilia ominously grabbing at Keaveney-Roys’ ‘spaceship’.
The whole play takes place behind a transparent projection screen, used to create both Fuller’s seemingly ubiquitous computer interface, and his innards where the Intronaut resides. This is very effective, and elevates the production value tremendously.
Simon Preston’s accompanying musical composition is a mishmash of 80s computer game effects, dreamy soundscapes, and bass-heavy dance. He successfully enhances moments of comedy and pathos, as well as lending a sense of danger to some of the Intronaut’s missions – not so easily done when she is supposed to be crawling around inside her owner’s anus.
This has all the elements of an excellent show, that is until it comes to a very abrupt ending, with no real resolution. Wrapping up after only an hour, it seems more like the first half of a really great story. Perhaps there’ll be an ‘Intronauts: Part 2’, and judging by the first half, I’d definitely go see it.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by Emma Windsor
Jacksons Lane until 13th January as part of the London International Mime Festival