A ferocious production of Macbeth roared onto the Lowry Lab stage last weekend. Brazon Theatre presented the play as the premiere offering of a new theatre organization called Theatre Coup D’Etat. The result of this partnership is a Macbeth that is far more compelling and entreating than the production I saw at the Guthrie in 2010.
Macbeth is Shakespeare’s classic about unbridled ambition, political murder, and revenge. King Duncan of Scotland has, with the help of his kinsman Macbeth, put down a rebellion. Macbeth, in his moment of victory, encounters three very disturbing and demented women who tell him that he will both be given the title of Thane of Cawdor and will become King of Scotland. The first part of the prophecy comes true almost immediately when Duncan rewards Macbeth for his service by elevating him to the Thane position. The elevation makes Macbeth more ambitious than ever. Macbeth and his wife waste no time in plotting the King’s death to make the remainder of the prophecy come true. Once Duncan is dead, Macbeth becomes King and Duncan’s heir Malcolm (played as a woman) fears for her life and flees to England. Now king, Macbeth becomes paranoid of conspiracies against him. He proceeds to murder his friend Blanco as well as the family of Lord Macduff when Macduff flees to England to join Malcolm who is raising an army to retake her father’s throne.
Theatre Coup D’Etat’s website states that this production highlights a theatrical process known as “animal work,” which trains the actor to follow primal instincts in order to connect with the physical and emotional depths of the characters. True to the “animal work” process, the actors are in primal mode crawling along the stage area letting out frightening animal noises when one enters the theater. Just before the show starts, the actors perform a ritual dance to the chant of a Klingon-style language. The payoff of this “animal work” comes in several compelling scenes: the witches scenes, the lusty scenes with Macbeth and his wife, and the sensual scene between a female Malcolm and her general Macduff.
The physical histrionics of the three witches, Meri Golden, Charla Marie Bailey, and Meredith Larson, are incredible and, at times, almost painful to watch. The three with their physicality, writhing, and ranting create a world of consummate terror, setting the tone for the carnage that their predictions ignite.
Although some of the acting is uneven, there were several standout performances. Top of the list is Angela Walberg as Lady Macbeth. She and James Napoleon Stone as Macbeth bring a heighten sensuality to their evil pact of murder. Other standouts are Nate Cheeseman as Banquo and Jim Ahrens as King Duncan.
The show cannot compete with the set design or costumes of the Guthrie’s production, but it offers a very high energy level in the first three-quarters of the play. The play was losing its hold with the murder of Macduff’s family where the subsequent killings, including the strangulation of Macbeth, come off as botched and bloody killings like the ones that occurred in the TV series The Sopranos. Despite the revulsion created by these murders, Theatre Coup D’Etat’s Macbeth is an ambitious production that grabs hold of the audience until nearly the end.
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