Reviews DerbyNational Published 7 March 2020

Review: Macbeth at Derby Theatre

3-14 March

Kite, meat hook, paint: Emily Holyoake delves into the symbolism of props and the tropes of contemporary Shakespeare revivals.

Emily Holyoake
Paul Tinto in Macbeth at Derby Theatre. Design, Ruari Murchison; lighting design, Daniella Beattie. photo: Mark Sepple.

Paul Tinto in Macbeth at Derby Theatre. Design, Ruari Murchison; lighting design, Daniella Beattie. Photo: Mark Sepple.

what do kites symbolise?

‘The kite symbolizes the quest for freedom in you’ – okay, well, that can’t be it. It’s been a while since I did an essay on Macbeth but I’m reasonably sure that the quest for freedom isn’t one of the themes.

‘Traditionally, kites symbolize both prophecy and fate’ – okay yeah, that’s probably it. Huh. I didn’t know that about kites.

There’s a meat hook in this version of Macbeth.

There are also some of those translucent plastic curtains that hang down in strips, like you get in a butcher’s shop.

(“Like you get in Co-op,” says my partner, a former Co-op employee.)

The plastic curtains aren’t there all the time – sometimes a big rusty metal screen with a tiny door and tiny windows comes down in front of them. I don’t know what slaughterhouses look like. Maybe they have metal walls and tiny doors and tiny windows.

When Lady Macduff and her child get killed, they get taken behind the Co-op curtains and someone squeezes a bottle of fake blood at the plastic. It comes out in a thin, paint-y, ketchup-y squirt.

What else?

Well, the chainmail is kind of janky. And rustle-y. It reminds me of the silver sequins around the bottom of my ‘school disco’ trousers. Shiny and plastic-y – long strips of fabric, cut into tabards. Like butchers’ aprons?

I’m sort of into the idea of Macbeth in a slaughterhouse. Macbeth doesn’t actually get his own hands dirty after he kills Duncan – he contracts out his murders after that. The murder of animals gets contracted out to slaughterhouses so we can all eat meat without getting bloody. I can go for ‘slaughterhouse’ as a concept which says something (?) about Macbeth.

But the meat hook only appears at the end, just before Malcolm’s last speech – y’know, the one where Macbeth gets called a ‘dead butcher’. Macduff hangs Macbeth’s head from it. It hangs over the dinner table from the Banquo’s ghost scene, which isn’t a dinner table by this point in the play, it’s a platform they use to put some of the actors on a different level to the others. Macbeth and Macduff roll over it while they’re fighting. The meat hook isn’t there while they’re fighting.

Maybe if they’d all had meat cleavers to fight with instead of swords.

Maybe if the plastic curtain had got more and more stained – y’know that yellow tint that translucent plastic gets when it’s bloodstained and washed over and over again? Like a mooncup.

Anyway, in one scene, there’s a meat hook.

The kite is there at the beginning. It’s the very first image of the play – a kid behind the plastic butcher Co-op curtains, as a silhouette, flying a kite.

Then we get some more silhouettes of a battle, during which the kite flies away.

Then we go into the first scene with the witches.

The kite could definitely symbolise prophecy and fate, if it’s supposed to, but understanding that is hard when the kite is only there once. (Am I just an idiot? Does everyone already know the symbolic meaning of kites??)

I hope the teenagers who are here on a school trip have lots to write about in their Macbeth essays.

There is a red line painted diagonally across the stage.

The line looks like it makes the actors feel uncomfortable in the first few scenes – their steps get smaller as they approach it, like they aren’t sure what it would mean to stand on the line, or to cross the line, or to be facing a character on the other side of the line.

It’s okay though because they get less aware of the red line as the play goes on.

During the interval, I make a joke: “They might as well have painted a basketball court on the stage because that also would’ve made the actors feel vaguely uncomfortable.” (I promise you this is a very funny joke and my mum laughs at it.)

Then when we come back for the second half, the witches draw a red circle in the middle of the stage to use as a cauldron, and it makes me think of the centre circle on a basketball court, and it makes me laugh.

Anyway, sometimes the red line is a red laser beam.

‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.’

When Macbeth kills Duncan, he comes back onstage looking like he’s just dunked his hands into a bucket of red paint. He is wearing red-paint-blood-gloves, that’s how neatly he has dunked his hands into the fake blood bucket.

But when Lady Macbeth goes to take the daggers back to the crime scene, she comes back onstage with just the palms of her hands bloody.

Macbeth’s hands are stained pink for the rest of the first half, but he doesn’t seem to notice, and neither does anyone else, and then they seem clean in the second half, like the actor got chance to wash his hands properly in the interval.

Does the blood stay with him? Or not?

This is an interesting time to be staging a play with hand-washing in it. (Is it??)

It’s flippant to use the ‘signifying nothing’ quote, isn’t it? Especially since there’s a great deal of competence in this production, and a dignified sincerity in the performances. It’s hollow to just reel off a list of choices and symbols without making any attempt to contextualise them. That makes for a boring response to Macbeth, even if there’s something technically competent about it.

Anyway, there’s a second scene with the witches where they make prophecies and talk about fate. The kite isn’t there.

Macbeth runs at Derby Theatre until 14th March. More info here.

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Emily Holyoake is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Review: Macbeth at Derby Theatre Show Info


Directed by Douglas Rintoul

Written by William Shakespeare

Cast includes Rikki Chamberlain, Martin Johnston, Adam Karim, Danielle Kassarate, Daniel Kendrick, Colette McNulty, David Nellist, Ewan Somers, Phoebe Sparrow, Paul Tinto, Connie Walker, Tilda Wickham

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