If you locked three high-spirited, creative, irreverent drama students in a primary school store cupboard with the junk modelling materials, an old dressing up box, toys, musical instruments and the script of Macbeth, and challenged them to brainstorm something interesting before the bell rings, this is what might result. Especially if they tear the script into half a dozen pieces, throw three sections away and distribute the remainder at random.
6FootStories adopted an unusual approach to the challenge of performing a play which has far too many characters for three people: they simply shared all the parts. Sometimes this was done sequentially – the identity of the character being represented by a sash, a scarf, a cowl, a voice or a regional accent. Sometimes this was done by splitting a long speech between two or three of them. I quite liked this latter strategy, as it brought to life the conflicting thoughts in a deliberation, like different voices in the character’s head; but some audience members found it confusing.
The whole play was confusing, as it hovered between doom-laden tragedy, vibrant with muscular tension and malevolence, and ludicrous comedic bathos. It was both very dark and very silly. That is not necessarily a criticism – I remember that is actually how I felt about the text of the play the first time I read it, but I have never before seen a production which portrayed it in that light.
Initially, the emphasis is on the side of darkness. It is clear that the witches are not just prophesying but creating the tragedy; and not just concocting it in their cauldrons but ever present, compelling the characters through its development. It is an extremely masculine production. The men are energetic, barefoot, dirty, completely streaked with grime. The action jumps forwards in fits and starts, marked by abrupt changes in lighting, the stage flooded with stark primary colours – lots of red, obviously, and also green, blue, yellow, white, against the dark, black brick background. When combined with the occasional thud of heavy metal in the soundtrack, it felt as if the play was set somewhere between hell and a nightclub toilet.
From the outset, however, there is also humour. Initially, there is just the odd moment of bathos. Then the humour gets progressively sillier until it is practically at the level of the Reduced Shakespeare Company – for instance, the scene depicting the slaughter of Lady MacDuff and her son ('poor monkey') is portrayed using a shawl puppet with a silly voice and – yes, a toy monkey.
The 6FootStories version of Macbeth was definitely worth seeing and the audience seemed to have enjoyed it – but it was definitely a production for people who have already seen too many productions of Macbeth. My companions and I agreed that if we had never read or seen Shakespeare’s play before, we wouldn’t have had a clue who was who or what was going on. Of course, as it is such a perennial choice as a GCSE text, most people aged 14 or over know the play well enough, and it was refreshing to see the story told in such a rampantly entertaining way.