nytheatre.com review by Peter Schuyler
April 4, 2009
In an attempt to mimic or mirror the original performances of Shakespeare's tragedy about avarice and power, the Hipgnosis Theatre Company has decided to stage Macbeth on a stark white deck, with fluorescent work lights and bright white stage lamps eliminating any kind of artificial darkness in the staging (as the Jacobeans did the play in broad daylight) letting the text and actors' performances supply the darkness instead. It's a bold concept, but this flawed and distracted production falls well short of executing it.
The design hits all the right notes, the stark white floor combined with Robert Nguyen's pointed lighting creates a sort of Kubrickesque negative space filled by John Castro classic (and somewhat repetitive) staging and Krista Thomas-Scott's excellent costumes. Her color palette manages to be lush and subdued at the same time with some broad strokes and wild departures, especially in the Tyvek body suits of the three witches.
I laud director John Castro's bold choices, especially to place the entire company just offstage in plain view, but sometimes when you go big it can backfire in a big way. This is the major downfall of the production. Every sound, every chair scrape, costume change, every actor with their face buried in their hands served as a constant distraction from the action of the play. From my seat all I could see was an assemblage of actors, disconnected from the story, simply waiting their turn to come on and speak.
The standouts of the cast: Julian Rozzell's Macbeth is well played; his stalwart performance shoulders the text well, though I missed some of the nuance in the early monologues that weigh his conscience against his avarice. John Kevin Jones plays Duncan and the first Murderer excellently adding equally bright and dark moments to the first act. The most impressive and sadly brief performance of the evening is Ayanna Siverls as Lady Macduff; her honest and strong portrayal makes the end of the scene even more heartbreaking, it was the one point in the night I can truly remember being emotionally invested in the action of the play.
Though I didn't care for this particular production, I would be interested to see what the company does next—if nothing else they proved that they have the courage to experiment and delve for contemporary connections to the Bard's work. It's that kind of spirit to innovate that makes for interesting and arresting theatre, though not this time around.