By Serafina Lee, Deputy Digital Arts Editor
Opera in a Box's adaptation of Verdi's seminal Macbeth is a comedic yet ultimately shallow rendition of a richly evocative opera. Focusing on the promenade experience at the expense of character complexity, the production is accessible yet simplistic.
When you really care about a play, it’s difficult not to let your high expectations impose too heavily upon your judgement. Macbeth is my favourite of Shakespeare’s works, and so I tried not to over-scrutinise Opera in a Box’s adaptation of Verdi's Macbeth. However, despite my attempts to remain true to my open-minded ethos, I left feeling like they had barely scratched the surface of a vastly complex opera.
Opera in a Box above all aims to be accessible, desiring to bring ‘the opera genre to as wide an audience as possible… helping to smash the preconceptions of opera that can put off new audience members’. I have to consider their intentions when evaluating how successfully they achieved them, as this is not an opera which takes itself too seriously. It is a promenade performance that excellently uses the cavernous tunnels of The Loco Klub to thrust its audience in amongst the actors, inviting them to participate in the performance. It is not in Verdi’s original Italian, but rather translated to English, making the narrative easy to follow for anyone unfamiliar with the plot. In one way it succeeds at being accessible, if accessible means sacrificing artistic depth and characterisation in favour of experiential theatre. If you don’t expect weighty psychological explorations, then Opera in a Box’s performance offers an enjoyable night in a great location.
My main issue with the production is just how cartoonish the characters felt, almost like caricatures in clichéd costumes. I don’t think accessibility should abandon complexity, as there are multiple ways the plot can be clear whilst also offering a compelling performance that does Shakespeare’s language justice. The witches (notably, Verdi had an entire witch chorus instead of the original three) were borderline ridiculous, excessively screeching and hissing- I was instantly reminded of The Wicked Witch of The West. They were also present in pretty much every scene to no apparent effect or reason. They could have replaced the halloween costumes (think white face paint with purple glitter, goat horns and green wigs) with something more stripped back and uncanny drawing on Banquo’s description of them: ‘What are these/ So wither’d and so wild in their attire… you should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so.’ Why not capitalise on their gender ambiguity and liminality? It seems like an injustice to force them to become such screeching caricatures when Verdi desired his witches to be ‘vulgar, yet bizarre and original’.
The banquet scene strove to be the promenade climax of the production, as audience members took their seats along with the actors. The warm cider and canapés were a nice touch, and the tunnels of the Loco Klub eerily staged the scene. However, it was difficult to tell what exactly was going on as my vision was obstructed and people naturally talked amongst themselves. Considering the appearance of Banquo’s ghost is supposed to trigger Macbeth’s mental crisis, the tension definitely was not built or sustained, it instead evaporated into comic pantomime-esque interactions with the actors. I was probably more focused on the mini quiche…
On the whole I wasn’t convinced or moved by any of the performances, and Macbeth’s tortured inner turmoil delivered through his characteristic soliloquies were definitely not captured, even through the emotive potential of music. However, Alexander Learmonth (Macbeth) and Hannah Coleman (Lady Macbeth) did have astounding voices, and it seemed like they would have a lot more to offer if the entire production was organised differently.
My favourite was scene 7, which was one good instance of lighting and sound. As Lady Macbeth descended into incurable guilt, her note escalated into a piercing scream and a spotlight bathed her in light as she parted the crowd. However, it was too little, too late. The final ensemble victory chorus delivered no gravity as the entire impetus of the production was feeble; an unconvincing and simplistic rendition of a truly remarkable play and opera.
Featured photo: Stewart McPhearson
Have you seen any productions of Macbeth recently?