Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 5 November 2013

Macbeth of Fire and Ice

Arcola Theatre ⋄ 30th October – 16th November 2013

Shakespeare meets Norse myth.

Freddie Machin

Bubbling earth, volcanic pressure and the foreboding Northern lights seems a fitting backdrop for this ancient tale of an iron fist of a warrior destined for Valhalla. Inspired by the ripping yarns and miserable weather of Norse mythology, Macbeth of Fire and Ice is ultimately a conventional reading of Shakespeare’s play with a few Scandinavian touchs thrown in for good measure.

Already one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays the text is here brutally slashed down to just 90 minutes, keeping only the necessary elements of the story. The effect is to plunge us into blood as quickly as possible, intensifying an already difficult task for Mark Ebulue in the title role, but he navigates the initial shock, conveying the doubt and regret of the would-be-king clearly and succinctly. For all of his power and certainty in the battle scenes, Ebulue shows us a Macbeth way out of his depth when it comes to rationalising his immoral deed.

Although the sleeveless hooded t-shirts worn by the cast do expose some Chris Hemsworth calibre arms, the minimalist design and overwhelming smell of dry ice does little to evoke Thor’s old stomping ground. The onus is therefore on the company to conjure up this world from the air, using mask, live music and frantic (if sometimes confusing) doubling.

Molly Gromadzki as Lady M is fearlessly committed throughout, and confident enough to brave long periods of silence, an approach which renders her mad scene disturbingly effective. By this point in the production we are accustomed to the deep, ominous stirrings of the cello, and so welcome the silence. Harry Napier provides an atmospheric soundtrack, doubling also as Duncan and an old soothsayer, but the underscoring is at time a false friend, regulating the rhythm of the piece rather than emphasising its shifts.

Gromadzki’s fiercely committed performance style is echoed through the cast, in particular during the exceptionally choreographed and executed fight sequences. Their sharp force and energy conveys a sense of a more brutal and ruthless time when a Thane would have had your head on a spike at the drop of a hat.

At the banquet guests appear as figments of Macbeth’s imagination: gruesome demons swilling blood around their goblets. The idea is slightly disrupted by the fact that although the guests are all hallucinations, Banquo, the main focus of Macbeth’s paranoid projections is not himself present.  From here on, however, both the script and staging successfully isolate Macbeth and his Lady M, sinking them deeper into their own evaporating consciousnesses.

The heavy cutting of the text means that more often than not the stage is only inhabited by one or two actors, resulting in a production lacking in memorable stage imagery and compositions. Later though, with Macbeth exhausted from fear and doubt, slumped in a corner, the witches cackle centre stage as their master Hecate puppets the King. Simple and stark, this image is pleasingly weird.

Although, the Norse influence is only token, the edit is striking and the cast exude energy, resulting a full throttle take on familiar play.

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Freddie Machin

Freddie wrote the feature film, Chicken, which he adapted from his debut play of the same title. He is a playwright, and creative practitioner regularly delivering projects for organisations across London. www.freddiemachin.com

Macbeth of Fire and Ice Show Info


Directed by Jon Gun Thor

Cast includes Mark Ebulue, Molly Gromadzki, Joseph Macnab, Ben Syder, Harry Napier, Alex Britton Directed by: Jon Gun Thor

Link http://www.arcolatheatre.com/

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