Howard Brenton's "shameless rip-off" of Macbeth relocates the action in a near-future left-wing totalitarian Britain, in which cabinet minister Jack Beaty murders his PM with a fire-axe in a hotel, and... well, you can sort of deduce the rest, can't you? Written in 1981 and receiving its first professional revival since, the main drawback is the sea-change in cultural and political life: where once it was plausible (however vaguely) that a Labour government might mutate into a creature of genuine socialism, an audience today won't know what the word even means, let alone engage with the political dimension.
What remains is an update with sporadically potent language and imagery (notably Andrew Durant's rodent-like chief of secret police Ross), and a central performance by Anthony Smee that begins as NW3 leftie and turns on a sixpence to bug-eyed, paranoid tyranny over the interval, with little sense of organic flow. Chris Fisher's stark directorial vision is everything that could be desired for such a work, but after a mere decade this is an exercise in archaeology, and that's the most worrying thing of all.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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