Macbeth. The title of Shakespeare’s most pulse-racing play even sounds like a heartbeat, so how has TR Warszawa’s blockbuster staging managed to make it an easy ride rather than a white-knuckle one?
This is, after all, a production that comes with its own fireball. A surging fog of flame balloons out of the stage, blasting faces in the front row with heat. There are the loud rat-a-tats of sub-machine guns, smoke grenades, flares and, um, short-circuiting tumble dryers, but still there’s all the suspense of a tramp’s trousers. What is it Macbeth says about sound and fury?
That may be the point. Gregor Jarzyna’s production takes place in a vast frontage with oblong prosceniums onto separate spaces in Fort Glamis. It could just as easily be a film set, as a military compound. Hollywood staples abound. A wall of voice-automated television screens displays satellite images and statistics and face-time communications. There are point-blank shootings and stock anonymous henchman, praying barefoot when ambushed. Duncan is dispatched with a single stab to the carotid artery, so that blood spurts out like beer from a freshly-tapped keg. It’s all a bit Call of Duty: Black Ops. It’s a valid criticism – the horrors of war replaced by its clichés – but hardly the stuff of visionaries.
In fact, before we even see Cezary Kosiñski’s fixed stare of a Macbeth, he’s painted as a freewheeling maverick, disobeying Duncan’s and-that’s-an-order with schlocky, cocky heroism. Actually, I should say Major Macbeth, who, with his second-in-command Captain Banquo (I know, ridiculous), storms a softly-armoured Middle Eastern compound. Given that Jarzyna’s production premiered in 2008, it at least starts with an edge of genuine – not to mention troubling – prophecy.
Herein lies Jarzyna’s political point: that the West is no more immune to the paranoia and cruelty of dictatorship as those they seek to remove from power. Kosiñski’s Macbeth grows to believe himself a god, invulnerable, thanks to the whisperings of a ghostly Uncle Sam and a carniverous white rabbit. To bear bad news is to take a bullet to the brain and finally, Macbeth remains alone and unguarded in his fortress as Macduff’s army approaches. His head is severed from his body and held aloft, echoing the kills that won him first Cawdor, then crown. It’s the neatest cycle of power you ever saw.
That’s one of two problems with Jarzyna’s production. It suffers from the very thing that it sets out to critique, namely, glibness. But the loss of tension is down to the loss of Macbeth’s timeframe. At a whizzbang 110 minutes, Jarzyna fast-forwards through the plot so that any foreboding evaporates. Tension takes time because suspense needs stillness. Jarzyna just gives us special effects and spectacle.