Macbeth, The Pit, Barbican Centre, London
Monday 08 November 2010
Poland's Song of the Goat Theatre company – their name alludes to the Greek word for tragedy – created a stir in 2004 with Chronicles: A Lamentation, a startling 45-minute piece based on the epic of Gilgamesh.
They now reappear with an intense 70-minute summation of Macbeth, first seen as a work-in-progress in the RSC's Complete Works season and derived from "several years of improvisation and rehearsal".
One cannot help but be impressed by the company's blending of balletic, martial-arts movement and polyphonic chanting. The production takes its pulse from the musician Rafal Habel, who saws and plucks a stringed Korean instrument called a kayagum. There are bursts of Corsican and Georgian liturgical chorales and the sung incantations of the witches, spread through the seven-strong company, turn the play into a dark tone poem.
The result, though, struck me as theatrical rather than dramatic. In contrast to the rhythmic discipline of the music, the international cast – which includes Gabriel Gawin's rugged, sweatingly anxious Geordie Macbeth and a blood-curdling, wholly unsympathetic Anna Zubrzycki as his spouse – gabble and mis-stress the verse. The company are happiest when operating as a single organism; the military atmosphere is heightened by much athletic wielding and hurling of staves, expressively so when they cleave the air around Macbeth as he contemplates the spectral dagger. But the emphasis on democratic group skills feels counterproductive in a tragedy that is designed to take us into the haunted consciousness of its hero. The soliloquies are swamped by the underscoring and stage pictures formed by other characters.
Cheek By Jowl's version, seen here in the spring, matched Grzegorz Bral's production in ensemble flair while generating what eludes the Polish company: a palpable sense of evil and its psychological penalties.
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