Regular readers may recall that one of the first crims in my staging failures book is dullness. I take my hat off to this production – it uses every cliché in the Reinvented Classics book and yet most of it ends up being pretty boring.
Before we get to the various sillinesses (like the inexplicable rabbit and magician) let us begin with the far more fundamental problem. Delivery of the text in this production is diabolical. It's not quite so infuriatingly slow as in the legendary American Repertory Theatre Three Sisters but it is a damn close run thing. There is also the bizarre additional issue that the company seems to believe that doing silly voices or other vocal effects (the version of “Sir, Yes, Sir” became especially annoying) is dramatically effective in itself. It isn't. Pretty rapidly I ceased to believe a word anybody was saying and consequently to give a damn about any of the protagonists.
The staging is proof that you can throw shedloads of money at a production to no good effect. It consists of an architecturally muddled house of four rooms. We may possibly be somewhere in the Middle East but this is never established with any conviction. Scenes take place across the four rooms and a couple of balconies with little evident reason as to why they do so. Creation of effective tension between performers through movement and stillness (in other words basic stagecraft) is depressingly thin. The various explosions and gunfire, impressive in themselves though the former in particular were, in practice did little than to momentarily arouse me from the torpor into which the rest of this tedious performance was dragging me.
All this is without mentioning the various sillinesses: the rabbit, the conjuror, Elvis, Lady Macbeth's bizarre dance routine and the classic cliches already alluded to – full frontal male nudity (Slings and Arrows were on this showing absolutely right to argue that “an empty chair is best” for Banquo's ghost scene), onstage peeing, chopping the original text into bits and inserting the director's clever interpolations. We have seen this kind of thing many many times. It is likewise ineffective.
This show is a classic example of the emperor having no clothes. The idiosyncracies of the delivery, the bizarre moments like the rabbit, the overblown setting all fail to conceal that the director has nothing to say about the play. This is another dull International Festival theatre production which should be avoided.