Macbeth, Barbican Theatre, London

Despite a warning on the ticket, the only victim of violence here is Shakespeare

Rhoda Koenig
Thursday 09 January 2014 02:53
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The ticket reads "contains scenes of a sexually violent nature," so you can't say you weren't warned – though the section of the audience who regard that as an incentive to book may find the sexual violence rather mild. (Macbeth appears to give in to his wife's advances, then slaps her about the head; the corpse of Lady Macduff is masturbated by her murderer.) There's no question, however, that a great deal of violence, sexual and otherwise, has been done to Shakespeare.

The Teatre Romea of Barcelona perform in their native tongue, with English surtitles. You may know the play well, but you'll have to resort to the titles to understand what's going on, as the director, Calixto Bieito, has altered it in cutting it to a bit over two hours, and that includes several musical intervals. Malcolm, for instance, is so chuffed at being made his father's heir that he points repeatedly to himself, kisses everyone, and shouts, "Party! Party!" Since Duncan is still king, though, it seems right that he should be the centre of attention, so, as the revellers sing "Guantanamera", he dances with a glass of wine on his head.

As you may have surmised, the king doesn't need to remove his crown to do his party trick. The set consists of three white sofas on an orange-and-white carpet that appears to bear the logo of a bankrupt corporation, and the actors' clothes are an incitement to violence by the taste police. Football tops, ruffled shirts, and brocade jackets are worn by the male nobility, and their ladies favour mini-skirts and platform shoes, a suitable outfit for the table-dancing with which Lady Macbeth shows her hospitality to her royal guest.

The enormous stage is full of people – children waving toy guns or zipping along on scooters, adults snogging, fighting, and, mostly, drinking. When Macbeth, a slouching skinhead, asks if it's a dagger he sees before him, that seems a modest hallucination for one who's been chugging liquor all evening – as he then continues to do with both hands, straight from the bottles.

The audience has a few treats: Macbeth peevishly kicks a volleyball into the stalls, and Malcolm tosses flowers. Men with seats in the first row may look forward to the attractive Lady Macbeth in front of them in her skimpy underwear to confide her problems with stain removal. The smells of a barbecue (the feast at which Banquo's ghost appears) might make you wish, if you're a post-theatre diner, that the grilled sausages will also be flung, but not if you remember where one of those sausages has been.

The titles come in handy for a section that Bieito has interpolated, in which an actor describes how to dispose of a body – cut it into pieces, he advises, and feed it to starving pigs. I didn't need any title, however (which is just as well, since none was provided) to translate the Catalan cry: "Merda! Merda! Merda!" I know a verdict when I hear one.

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