In some ways, it is a pity that Volcano Theatre Company have matured; in others, they are now more admirable than ever. Their latest show – seen briefly on the South Bank prior to its Edinburgh Fringe run – lacks the exuberant cheek so evident a few years ago in presentations like Vagina Dentata and their marvellous Ibsen treatment How To Live; however, after the leaden earnestness of The Message and the vague, directionless thetownthatwentmad, Macbeth – Director's Cut focuses in tightly on a particular imagistic thrust which grows in malign potency throughout its 85 minutes.
Volcano – currently trimmed down to a core of two performers, Fern Smith and Paul Davies, plus their occasional collaborator on direction and adaptation, Nigel Charnock – concentrate here on that paradox of modern culture, the fascination of the banality of evil. After an opening scene which shows Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in embryo, so to speak, and a formal, melodramatic phase lasting until the murder of Duncan – with Smith vamping away almost to a Dallas-like degree whilst Davies remains poker-backed – the transparent gauze in front of the stage and the ruched ballroom curtain behind the performers fall away to reveal a scene of domestic squalor: cheap furniture in disarray, children's clothes drying on airers. The couple alternately conspire amid chuckles and taunt each other with infantile sadism: Banquo's "ghost" is an image cast onto Macbeth's chest from a slide projector worked by Lady M. The preceding mirror-ball episode is revealed to be a self-glorifying fantasy shared by an altogether seedier couple.
Even without a programme note, the comparisons with Fred and Rose West become slowly inescapable. A life-size walking child-doll stands in for young Macduff, whilst Smith speaks both Lady Macduff's lines and the child's; Davies bursts in and savagely batters the soft plastic head fully two dozen times, then sets the figure back up on a chair. We infer that this is either the couple's own child, horribly and murderously maltreated, or a symbol of past mistreatments of children already dead and disposed of around the sinister, labyrinthine house shown on video along with Davies (who, in gloomy lighting, looks unintentionally but disturbingly like a Klingon) obsessively taking care of his arsenal of DIY tools. These twisted lives and casual deaths are the everyday currency of these modern, urban Macbeths. Even Lady M's sleepwalking guilt and their shared jadedness at their lives falling into "the sere, the yellow leaf" are mere passing diversions from the continuing dreadfulness. Their deaths are excised from the text; instead, they simply loop back to more dialogue from the early scenes. The horror never ends.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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