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‘Offers psychological chills from the start’: MACBETH – Big Telly Theatre Company (Online review)

Macbeth is possibly the best known Shakespeare play, often studied in school and much adapted in a variety of settings from a Nazi concentration camp to a council estate.

Big Telly NI’s new Zoom show, part of the Belfast International Arts Festival, sets the witches backstage in a closed theatre, with Duncan’s “fatal entrance under my battlements” taking place in an ordinary terraced house.

With some scenes of conflict filmed in a style which evokes the “found-footage” style seen in The Blair Witch Project and others, this Macbeth – for which audience members are instructed to draw the curtains and dim the lights – offers psychological chills from the start.

With a cast of five playing all parts, and some textual trims, the action goes into colour only once Macbeth is crowned and until the battle of Birnam Wood. Dennis Herdman and Nicky Harley play the power-hunting Macs; the former catching the desperation of never feeling “safely thus” and the latter unravelling under the weight of guilt.

The creative team, led by Zoe Seaton as director, have crafted a world which allows the actors to perform live from their houses against detailed sets digitally added, and technical flourishes which take the work of Big Telly NI much further than in their first digital Shakespeare months ago. A sequence involving bats is especially effective.

With Aonghus Og McAnally (Ray’s grandson, I realised, given the strong facial resemblance), Lucia McAnespie and Dharmesh Patel as the witches – and doubling up respectively as Duncan/Macduff, Lady Macduff/Malcolm, and Banquo – in the cast, we have a solid quintet of players.

Sometimes the more emotional soliloquies and moments are lost due to the enforced distancing, but the story is clear and easy to watch, and presented as a horror story it is effective. An introductory device which mimics the government Covid briefings could have been explored more, but it made an interesting beginning.

Audience participation works well, but is not essential (my camera refused to work but I still felt involved). If you want to be included, go ahead, but the immersive element in Macbeth is minimal when compared to other shows.

Macbeth continues as part of the BIAF until 17 October, then online via Creation Theatre until 31 October. Tickets cost £20 per device.

LouReviews received complimentary access to review Macbeth.

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