Sat, 17 Oct 2020
Big Telly Theatre Company: Macbeth, in front rooms
everywhere, until October 31
Review by JON LEWIS
AT a televised ministerial briefing, a politician supported by a sober chief scientific adviser, stand at podiums showcasing a new three-part government mantra designed to encourage collective action against a common enemy that is haunting communities across the country. We are advised to dim lights, close curtains and buy a supply of salt.
This is the opening scene in Big Telly Theatre Company’s live Zoom production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, performed with spectral wisdom in the weeks running up to Halloween, and a highlight of this year’s Belfast Festival of the Arts.
In this scene, director Zoe Seaton playfully disrupts the patterns of choreography and messaging seen in covid briefings, testing and tracing members of the audience by measuring if we have been infected by witchcraft. In a dig at the closure of theatres in the pandemic, we are exhorted to refrain from imagination and creativity before witnessing a brilliantly conceived scene set in a deserted theatre, the three witches pulling all the strings as stage crew.
Having been warned that witches have the power to mutate, we see how the actors playing the witches, Dharmesh Patel, Lucia McAnespie and Aonghus Óg McNally play every other character beyond Macbeth (Dennis Herdman) and Lady Macbeth (Nicky Harley). This suggests that the entire country has been invaded by the shapeshifting witches, their asymptomatic presence as bodysnatchers working in a similar way to how the coronavirus infiltrates many victims without their knowledge.
With the cast performing from their own homes, Seaton imaginatively incorporates found footage close-up horror effects into scenes of bloody murder, as when the Macbeths have slaughtered Duncan who was staying in their home. Macbeth’s celebratory banquet as a newly crowned king sees various audience members’ images screen-grabbed by the Zoom controller and placed on seats around the table. Other viewers are involved later in the play to portray Banquo’s future line of Scotland’s ruling class.
For all her Zoom productions over the year and in changing the dynamics of British theatre, Zoe Seaton is the
director of the year. Employing Creation Theatre’s inspiring resident designer Ryan Dawson Laight to help the actors create their home-based stage sets, this innovative, topical, production is being promoted by Oxford compny Creation from October 21 to 31.