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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

The Macbeths
Citizens' Theatre and YouTube   June 2021

For Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre director Dominic Hill has cut-and-pasted Shakespeare's Macbeth into an intimate two-character psychological drama that sustains its almost exhausting intensity through just under an hour's running time.

And, working largely in extreme close-ups, actors Keith Fleming and Charlene Boyd bring us deeper into the Scottish Play than most full-length stage productions can.

Hill edits the text cleverly and sensitively, sometimes converting dialogue into narrative, sometimes the other way around. For example, his version opens with Macbeth's letter to his wife describing the witches, but played as a pillow-talk conversation between the two.

This gets a half-hour of plot out of the way efficiently and also establishes the intimacy and complicity of the couple.

The one bit of textual tinkering that doesn't quite work in this modern-dress production, because it's a little too gimmicky, is fitting in scenes not involving the Macbeths by having the couple listen to tape recordings from presumably bugged locations, like the murder of Banquo.

And yet Hill also makes very effective use of the device a couple of times, as the spirits of the witches haunt the recorder to deliver the gnomic false reassurances of Macbeth's invulnerability. And at least once it significantly enriches the play.

Early on, just before Lady Macbeth says she would kill her own child if she had sworn to it, we watch her fondle some baby clothes and toys, and realise she has in fact lost a child. And later it is listening to the tapes of the attack on Macduff's family and specifically the cries of the children that drives her mad, leading directly into the Sleepwalking Scene.

Another directorial touch that effectively colours the whole play is to have the actors retain the bloody clothes and hands from Duncan's murder throughout.

Both actors have been led by their director to courageous performances that hold nothing back while bringing us deep into the characters' torments. Drenched in sweat throughout, Keith Fleming's Macbeth is a man living constantly on his raw nerve endings, unable to pause between extremes of excitement, fear, determination and despair.

Charlene Boyd repeatedly does what no actress wants to do as she lets herself become ugly in extreme close-up as Lady Macbeth is driven by uncensored passions. And then, having been the demon driving her wavering husband in the early scenes, she wins back our sympathy as she crumbles in the later ones.

This may be Macbeth-condensed, but it is in no way Macbeth-lite.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The Macbeths - Citizens Theatre 2021