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Macbeth (An Undoing) at the Rose Theatre review: the sound and fury drowns out its flashes of inspiration

by News Room
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Honestly, you wait ages for a Macbeth then three disappointing ones arrive in a row. After David Tennant and Ralph Fiennes had their respective stabs at Shakespeare’s murderous Scot, this adaptation written and directed by Zinnie Harris – originally produced by Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum – sets out to challenge traditional, patriarchal tellings.

There’s a commanding central performance from Nicole Cooper as Lady Macbeth and flashes of inspiration. But it’s a meandering, fragmentary piece of work that flits between Shakespeare’s poetry, Harris’s sweary, not quite-modern dialogue, and meta nods to its own theatricality – direct address to the audience, stagehands dragged on stage – seemingly at random.

We’re in a male-dominated feudal Scotland, possibly in the 1920s, but Harris maps an alternative female pattern onto the play. Lady Macbeth and the pregnant Lady Macduff are sisters (or cousins: it’s not clear). The latter’s free-spirited fecundity is a rebuke to the former, whose love and loyalty to her husband has produced no living heir. The so-called witches are local women Lady Macbeth turned to for help when trying to bring a child to term.

Harris condenses most of the action into the Macbeths’ castle, filtering the politicking and the folk-horror through a domestic
setting. She also inverts the paths the couple take after the killing of King Duncan, which has a certain logic. He, unhinged by the murders he’s committed, goes mad with hand-washing guilt. She, who stiffened his resolve, assumes the reins of power.

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