Sunday 21 January 2024

Macbeth at the Donmar, or, "Have you really paid £65 to see a radio play?"

Note: This is a review of the matinee on Saturday 13th January 2024.

When it was announced that audience members would have to wear headphones for the duration of this show I strongly considered not booking. The only thing that changed my mind, apart from my completionist tendencies, was the presence in the cast of David Tennant. He gives a fine performance. Indeed, the acting and verse speaking is strong across the company. Unfortunately this is not enough to transcend the fundamentally flawed concept, and dull staging.

That central concept is the aforementioned requirement that we all wear headphones so that a soundscape can be overlaid on the actors speech. Some evidently find this makes for a more intimate theatrical experience. I found the opposite. Although the audio does have dynamic range it isn't the same as the spoken dynamic range that a small space like the Donmar conjures without artificial aid. The effect is especially jarring when the accompanying soundscape is minimal and you just have performers talking, and even more so if you're a Donmar regular as I am, looking down at an ensemble you would usually be listening to without effort and feeling, because of the headphones that while they are physically right in front of you, their voices feel both overly close and oddly removed. I would also say that overall I found the audio sound too loud, though I gradually got used to it as the afternoon wore on (there did not appear to be any mechanism to adjust it). It fundamentally feels to me a waste to inflict this barrier on Shakespearean verse speaking of the calibre an actor like Tennant posssesses.