Published in The Times, Friday January 23 2015
In the opening moments, you would be forgiven for thinking that you had inadvertently wandered into a stripped-down electroacoustic gig. Centre stage is a cluster of desks bearing an assortment of wired-together synthesisers, microphones and audio equipment. Otherwise, the staging is completely bare, with the actors apparently clad in their civvies.
Filter Theatre has built a decade-long track record of distilling classic plays to their essence, ruthlessly abridging texts and dispensing with such distractions as set, props and costumes. In this deconstruction of the Scottish play, produced in association with Bristol’s Tobacco Factory, all the beauty and mystery derives from the soundscape, created by Tom Haines, and performed by the ensemble. Haines’s compositions blend peculiar bongs and bleeps of the kind pioneered by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop with longer, melodic synth passages, at times generating a quite eerie, unsettling atmosphere.
What’s disappointing – and unexpected – is how faithful this devised production remains to Shakespeare, with too few imaginative flourishes to replace the lack of conventional theatricality. The play’s most familiar scenes and soliloquies are all present and correct, albeit pared down in the interests of pace and buoyancy. Ferdy Roberts gives a commanding performance in the title role, while Poppy Miller gives us a Lady Macbeth whose frozen mask of respectability visibly strains against her inner torment. Yet the supporting players, doubling and trebling roles, are so underpowered that the life drains out of the play whenever the music stops or the leads leave the stage.
A handful of bold ideas offer flashes of what might have been, with the Porter’s scene replaced by actor Paul Woodson reading the corresponding extract from Brodie’s Notes, and an arresting sequence, in which the cast don masks and whirl around a blindfolded Roberts in a disturbing variation on blind man’s bluff. Too often, though, you’re left feeling as though you’ve intruded on the rehearsal room rather than a fully realised production.
Box office: 0141 429 0022, to Jan 31, and touring UK to Mar 14. filtertheatre.com