Michael Colk: Macbeth Review for YISF

Flabbergast Macbeth (c) Mike Lynch

Michael is a second year Creative Writing and Media student at York St John and a volunteer blog reviewer for York International Shakespeare Festival. In this review, Michael looks at Flabbergast Theatre’s production of ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ performed in the York St John Creative Centre on the 26th of April 2023. 

Shakespeare gets a bad reputation in my opinion. From the time were born we are told that he was and is the greatest writer that has ever come from this country, that every work he’s ever written is a masterpiece. So we must diligently study his texts and analyse them, we must perform them with the utmost respect for the source material. This leads to a lot of people hating Shakespeare and condemning it as dry or boring or too difficult to understand or… you get the idea. But actually, Shakespeare can be fun. 

I’ve always loved Macbeth, I studied it in high school so it’s one of the few Shakespeare plays I actually know and understand. I’ve always loved Lady Macbeth as a character, the ideas of betrayal and guilt that get explored, the context in which the play itself was written, but I’ve never seen that many performances of it. I watched a few films that played with the setting but not in any way other than superficially and there was a touring group who performed a few fight scenes from it in my school assembly hall which was quite entertaining, but this was the first time I’d seen a full stage production of it and I really enjoyed it. 

The whole thing felt like watching a bunch of kids playing pretend in the muddy parts of some dense woods. It really hit me in the scene where Macbeth kills Duncan, the actors all pulled out small sticks for daggers and it reminded me of running through this forest near the top of the street of my childhood home. I’d brandish my own sticks as swords and duel with my sister or use them as ways of clearing my treacherous path on the long (short) journey it took to walk down to the corner shop to claim my reward (a pick a mix bag usually containing a jelly snake, my favourite). Despite the tragedy of the story, the performers all seemed to be so joyous and enthusiastic about what they were doing, they had the permission to run around, shout and scream just as kids do.

Macbeth and witches
Flabbergast Macbeth (c) Mike Lynch

It also brought back these ideas of the roots of storytelling sitting around a fire in the darkness, the primal and animalistic nature that is inherent in performance. At times, the whole show felt like one big ritual, the witches and supernatural being such a strong part of the original play definitely contributed to this but the rhythmic chanting and general atmosphere brought by the performers made it a much more intimate experience. At times it was almost psychedelic, with lights and shadows being cast everywhere, the only thing I think could have made it more intense would have been a fog machine.

The one thing I was anticipating the entire time throughout the show was the Porter’s scene that takes place just after Duncan’s murder. The Porter is there to add levity to the otherwise dark narrative and in my experience often goes overlooked when read or performed because as we all know ‘Shakespeare is a prestigious institution’. But I think a few lewd jokes after a murder has just taken place is quite necessary. I can honestly say that in this performance, the Porter’s scenes were some of my favourite moments. These scenes were the only point at which the script diverged from the original but it still captured the same humour of the source material. It again reminded me of a child, running about making jokes out of nothing and interjecting at inappropriate moments because they don’t know any better. 

So, despite the dark and tragic nature of Macbeth and the play itself I would have to say that this production did indeed make Shakespeare fun.

If you would like to read another review of ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’, check out Grace Laidler’s piece on the Words Matter Blog: Grace Laidler: Macbeth Review for YISF – Words Matter. (yorksj.ac.uk)