Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man?
EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE
- Venue: Old College Quad, Edinburgh
- Director: Paweł Szkotak
- Producer: Teatr Biuro Podrozy
Traveling to the Hebrides, Dr Johnson passed through Forres (the opening location for Macbeth) and treated Boswell to parodies of the witches’ speeches.
Finding Forres dull and the road arduous, Johnson might have approved of Macbeth: Who Is That Bloodied Man? which began with the witches on stilts wielding football rattles and Banquo riding a motorbike.
This Polish piece was performed in a quadrangle at the bottom of the Royal Mile and proved operatic in tone and scale.
Plainchant, incantatory instrumental music and percussive effects were produced at either side of the venue while the witches’ cauldron spat out sufficient flames to engulf the whole of Inverness with hints that it may be a WWII Holocaust crematorium oven.
But this was Macbeth for the insider; there was little dialogue apart from occasional blasts of amplified invective, Duncan was barely visible, Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking was through a Turkish bath (a more determined than usual effort at handwashing?) and you had to be familiar with the prophecies to have any idea of what was going on amid the pyrotechnics. There were moments of real terror when we realised that the witches were not only impervious to Lugers fired at them by Macbeth and Banquo but had a stock of skulls taken from their victims with which to torment their attackers. Only Fleance, riding pillion on his father's Triumph Bonneville and then comandeering it, seemed well placed to escape assasins and threats from the supernatural.
At times I wondered if it was me or Poznan-based Biuro Podrozy who had “eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner” but the point here was not to look for plot or even expect introspection and a chance to see the principal characters going through the emotional gears. One of the few logical sequences from the original story was the torching of telegraph poles (one for each of Macbeth's victims) which rise again to become Birnam Wood on the move.
Consensus among a capacity audience flowing out onto South Bridge was that analysis of the fleeting moments of conversation between the characters would get us nowhere. The piece should be simply treated as a masque and a critique of experiences under totalitarianism in the eastern bloc. The best response was simple surrender to one of the most spectacular sights in the city made all the more compelling by a location that became a microcosm with no ambient light. A closing scene made it clear that the future lay with Fleance rather than Malcolm and we were taken back to the parade of eight kings which had been a high point.