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Review: Macbeth by Filter Theatre at Northern Stage

A new and radical production of Macbeth serves up an arresting 'audio-visual nightmare' at a Newcastle theatre

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Filter Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres present MACBETH by William Shakespeare Created by Filter Music Composed by Tom Haines

For many students, the deceit, horror and bloodshed of Shakespeare’s tragedy make it an exciting entry into the world of theatre.

Filter Theatre has an interesting track record of adaptations, from Twelfth Night in 2007 to A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2012.

Its new adaptation of Macbeth, under director Ali Robertson, filters the classic tale of ambition and power through the gauze of transformative audio technology.

In Newcastle as part of a UK tour, Filter’s version signifies an exciting tonal shift in modern Shakespearean theatre.

Set on a minimalist stage, the actors alternate between characters and a collection of electronic instruments arranged in a ritualistic circle.

This séance of synths adds a spectacular depth to the tragedy, especially when events get a little surreal and composer Tom Haines unwittingly draws you into the mouth of madness.

Filter Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres present MACBETH by William Shakespeare Created by Filter Music Composed by Tom Haines

From the sonic sorcery of the witches to the distorted cries of Macduff’s murdered children – captured on a baby monitor – Haines’ score effortlessly shifts from the nuances of Danny Elfman to David Lynch, commanding the audience with gleeful manipulation.

While the soundscapes always have the potential to slip into gimmickry, they never dominate, accentuating actors’ performances rather than detracting from them.

Ferdy Roberts, bearded and gaunt, brings a vicious physicality to the role of doomed Macbeth while Poppy Miller, as Lady Macbeth, portrays a slow descent into insanity with a mixture of erratic brilliance and unpredictability.

Victoria Moseley’s Banquo and Geoffrey Lamb’s Macduff are more deadly drawn and serious which is understandable, given the ill–timed comic diversions of Lady Macbeth.

Filter Theatre and Tobacco Factory Theatres present MACBETH by William Shakespeare Created by Filter Music Composed by Tom Haines

But in a play revolving around psychological descent and murder, offbeat humour provides a welcome reprieve, especially in a hallucination scene where Macbeth is analysed by a smarmy ‘audience member’ referencing a Shakespeare study guide.

The “delicate balancing act” of honouring a playwright’s intentions and showcasing innovation is part of Filter’s ethos and this production again demonstrates the universal appeal of Shakespeare’s work.

While Filter’s attempt to draw comedy from tragedy may divide audiences, its take on digital paranoia, exploring the uneasy interplay between white noise, silence and darkness, makes its production relevant and emotionally arresting.

As a superbly executed audio-visual nightmare, Filter’s Macbeth will undoubtedly worm its way into your psyche.

Chris Binding

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