Theatre reviews: The Macbeths | Family Portrait | A Certain Value | The Ends of the Day

Charlene Boyd and Keith Fleming are magnificent in Dominic Hill’s filmed version of The Macbeths, writes Joyce McMillan

Charlene Boyd as Lady Macbeth and Keith Fleming as Macbeth in The Macbeths PIC: Alan Peebles

When Dominic Hill’s radical one-hour version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth first appeared at the Citizens’ Theatre Studio in 2017, it was acclaimed by almost everyone who saw it as a ferociously intense live theatre experience, difficult to imagine in any other medium. Reimagined as a shared nightmare of blood and darkness splattered across a marital bed, Shakespeare’s terrifyingly powerful text – cut and adapted by Dominic Hill and Frances Poet – exploded through the small studio space; and Charlene Boyd and Keith Fleming delivered performances so charged with erotic energy and blazing ambition that audiences emerged into the light looking as if they barely knew what had hit them.

It was a high-risk enterprise, therefore, to try to transfer this visceral theatre experience to film; yet together with Martyn Robertson of Urbancroft Films, who co-directs, Dominic Hill has made the shift in fine style, with a mesmerising filmed version of The Macbeths (*****) that also raises profound questions about whether it could ever have achieved this level of intensity, had it not been for its earlier life as a live production. Despite the importance of blood as a key image in the play and production, the action is filmed almost entirely in black and white, with the quality of the blood evoked almost entirely by texture and lighting; and the effect of the absence of colour, and of the tight focus on the actors’ faces, is to throw the force of the language into high relief, despite the monochrome strength of the visual images. Boyd and Fleming are as brilliant as ever as the Macbeths; and for those who like their Shakespeare brilliant, concentrated, and brief, this version of The Macbeths offers a rare and thrilling treat, available online from 3 June.

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The Edinburgh International Children’s Festival and the Take Me Somewhere festival in Glasgow are both still in full swing, meanwhile; and one show that appears in both programmes – and offers a semi-live experience – is Barrowland Ballet’s Family Portrait (****), a 40-minute film installation viewed live at each showing by a tiny, family-sized audience. Shown across four screens arranged in a square – with the audience in the middle on pivoting stools – Family Portrait follows Barrowland’s artistic director Natasha Gilmore, and her three children, as they explore a piece of woodland in the Cairngorms during lockdown.

The quality of the filmed images, on four sides, is dazzling and full of depth, creating a powerful immersive experience; and within this frame, Gilmore both allows her children to express their own responses to the environment, and creates a powerful narrative, through images and movement, about motherhood and creativity, and the relationship between the two. The whole experience is magnificently filmed by co-director Robbie Synge and his team, with music and sound by Davey Anderson; in a film experience that speaks with tremendous eloquence about the intense renewed relationship with the natural world that has been part of the lockdown experience for so many millions, and about what we can pass on to our children, and they can teach us, in a time of such global crisis.

There are 23 shows plus a small Buzzcut Festival included in this year’s Take Me Somewhere programme, rightly described as taking place “in Glasgow and everywhere”; and over the weekend, I managed to catch up with a couple of remarkable online experiences that fully emphasised Take Me Somewhere’s powerful international reach. A Certain Value (****), created by Anna Rispoli and Martina Angelotti in Belgium, is a semi-documentary meditation on various experiments in collective living, performed live online by volunteer audience members.

The four collective settings represented are a prison, a “Common Wallet” experiment where a group of households pool and share their financial resources, a food collective providing accommodation and shared meals for asylum seekers and refugees, and an angry school students’ campaign against single-use plastics. The settings seem Nordic, French, Hungarian, but the political questions, anxieties and urgencies are universal. How do we escape from an economic system that is destroying the planet? And are all our idealistic attempts to do so, and to change the world for the better, always doomed to failure? A Certain Value offers no answers to these burning questions, but it squarely reminds us that no country or continent is alone in its search for those answers; and that we in the audience are part of that struggle, which we have no right to abandon.

It’s impossible to fight on, though, without occasional moments of relaxation, communion and peace; and each night, Mamoru Iriguchi’s At The Ends Of The Day (****) invites listeners to his online pirate radio station to share an hour of Zoom time that is very different from the average online meeting. Audience members are not identified by their own names, and are invited to sit in the dark, lit only by a candle. Meanwhile, as the world turns, presenters from New Zealand to Iceland play us nightfall sounds from wherever they are, whether a small farm in Palestine, a beach in Namibia, or, in Scotland’s case, theatre-maker Greg Sinclair sending a friend out to sample the sounds of Waverley Station and the Water of Leith. It’s difficult to describe how powerful this experience is, as an evocation of global community; but if you ever have a chance to join Iriguchi’s virtual night-time communion, then take it – for the sake of your soul and your humanity, which surely need this kind of gentle sustenance, now more than ever.

For information, tickets and links to The Macbeths see https://www.citz.co.uk/whatson; for Edinburgh International Children’s Festival see https://www.imaginate.org.uk/festival/; and for Take Me Somewhere 2021 see https://takemesomewhere.co.uk

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