Something wicked and wonderful is currently underway in the Docklands.
A towering grey concrete block of flats is playing host to a tremendous adaptation of Macbeth, done by imaginative and immersive theatre company RIFT (formerly Retz, and previously visited for an excellent performance of The Trial.)
For this telling of Macbeth, the play is set in Borduria, where makeshift visas enable us to travel to meet 1970’s Soviets at every turn. The (mainly) disused concrete tower which hosts the evening is suitably Soviet block-like in style and manner, and with some very good room-dressing, this is an ideal site-specific adventure.
The audience spend the evening moving from place to place to engage fully in The Scottish Play. Most of the scenes take place in front of us in our apartment, which allows for a very intimate view of the action. Banquo is murdered in our bathroom (messy), and we are carefully led through the building by our guide for the other scenes. We head to different apartments, pubs (windowless and built strangely into the tower block) and finally to the roof on the cusp of midnight for a stunning finale.
Occasionally we sit to watch a small and antiquated TV in our flat to get news updates on the army’s progress and the public’s reaction to Macbeth but, truth be told, we are in almost constant motion until our heads finally hit our (deluxe) pillows.
It is wonderful theatre. On paper, there is no world in which stretching a Shakespearean play by 3-plus hours should be a good idea; yet the action is nearly non-stop. The evening is so well-structured and well-paced that I am shocked when ten-thirty rolls around and it’s time for our dinner. Yes, you eat during the banquet scene, and yes, the scene is wonderful. The choreographed contrast of restrained and stretched movements from the witches is an outstanding spectacle, and the food, whilst not of great quantity, is tasty, filling and delightfully appropriate for the Soviet setting.
The acting is similarly delightful. There are three separate sets of actors playing Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and they perform the scenes on a rolling circuit to three rather small groups. We were thrilled to get to see Matthew Neal as Macbeth. He was malevolent; cruel and yet full of a fearful and feverish delirium as his power-lust escalated. Being in such an intimate setting allowed for a close look at his character; when he raged, we flinched, when he grinned, we couldn’t help but share in his cunning attitude.
Dominque Bull is haunting in her roles as both witch and Lady Macduff, and how she manages what must be the quickest costume and character change in living history is beyond me. Equally, some of the Gruff actors are tremendous, and the scene of Lady Macduff’s murder led to nightmares and creepy whispers to one another once the lights went out in our flat. It’s not something I can un-see in a hurry.
Everything about this is wonderful theatre. There is no way any theatre company should even attempt to pull off such an ambitious overnight performance—but they do, and they do it so well. This is a tremendous experience that enables you to live and breathe the story which, in turn, leads to a deeper understanding of and better relationship towards a classic Shakespearean work.
There were few complaints from our group. We felt that some of the bit characters were a little over the top and perplexing (Lennox is more or less played by Che Guevara which raises more questions than answers) and we unanimously agreed our guide was by far the best out of any of the groups’ guides, but this is a performance with very little to fault. The premise is good, the scheduling is near-seamless (not a lot of time to pee though, so just…say if you need to go), and the acting is top notch.
This is a brave performance, and it is also extremely well executed. If there is a god of theatre, this show will have an extended run and be able to offer further tickets for sale, because at the time of writing, it is quite understandably and deservedly sold out.
What’s done cannot be undone and fortunately, once seen, this performance can not be forgotten.
Find out more about RIFT and Macbeth here.
Learn more about Gruff here.
We stayed in a Deluxe room and it was worth every penny. Bring your pajamas- we thought we’d reserved a flat to ourselves and found ourselves joined late in the night by two girls we didn’t know. This was after we’d sensibly divided up the beds into rooms of those who had to work the next day and those who didn’t. The two strangers ended up in the staying-up late room and wanted to go to sleep straight away. Slightly awkward.
Don’t wear clothes that can’t get a bit of blood on them. Macbeth gets messy. Have you seen how many people die in this play? Your flat looks like CSI Borduria by the end of the night.
Bring cash for the bar and grab (free) water whenever you can. There’s a lot of running around breathlessly and if you’re only drinking beer, you and your friends will get a serious attack of the giggles and be unable to stop laughing around the time Macbeth finds out his wife is dead. Not okay.
Although we’re told the king will be crowned in the morning, the only morning activity we experience is a nice breakfast. Some reviews have mentioned actors walking through the rooms in the middle of the night; this is not something we experienced. At least one person from our group was up at every point during the night because we went the night of the insane thunderstorms. Don’t be fooled; there is the opportunity to sleep very well at this event, weather allowing!