Macbeth @ International Festival
There's Scottish commanders stomping about in fatigues and letting off rounds of machine gun fire. A war room is filled with screens and screams. The stage gets blown up in a scene that woud not shame a Jason Statham flick. TR Warszawa have no sentimentality about Shakespeare's poetry: the grand speeches are interspersed with the prosaic language of battle, and Lady Macbeth dies thanks to a faulty washing machine. An Elvis impersonator turns up, and the soldiers have a quick gay orgy. The signifiers of iconoclasm are all in place, but director Grzegorz Jarzyna is less interested in deconstructing Macbeth than lending it a contemporary resonance.
The allusions to the war against Islam are introduced early: the witch is in purdah, the enemy are at prayer when Macbeth dives in. But 2008: Macbeth struggles, between the cool action scenes and fancy set to make Macbeth relevant. References to contemporary warzones are awkward against Macbeth's desire to found a dynasty, and the emotional tensions between Lady M and the Naughty Man make sense only in the intimate political world of aristocrats. Once the modern world intrudes, the whole game is different.
The set is superb: sub-divided into war rooms, boudoir, laundry and castle ramparts, it dominates the performances and Shakespeare's monologues, even between the noise of helicopters and a blaring score, retain their elegance even in surtitles. There's an irony in seeing Scotland stand in for any of the various theatres of war that this version uses as context – when Macbeth leads the Scottish airbourne division, it receives a laugh – but Warszawa's Macbeth does the excitement, the action and the disorientation so well, it is almost churlish to note that they cannot make the script relevant without compromising its essential character.