Macbeth – Belfast International Arts Festival

Written by William Shakespeare

Adapted and Directed by Zoë Seaton

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and hereafter King; the story of Macbeth is one ingrained in the minds of schoolchildren across the nation. Encouraged by the infamous three witches of old, the battle-worn Macbeth is tempted into committing heinous acts to further his ends – driven not only by his ambition but that of his wife, Lady Macbeth.

We’ll say this – the uniqueness of this Macbeth’s opening, playing live for a digital audience, alters the lead into the show and demonstrates the intention to conduct a breaking with the fourth wall. Playing with expectations, the production opens with a familiar podium littered with three-word slogans. Announcements of a superstitious virus and of witchcraft tie the show into the present situation and makes for a surprisingly creative hook to grab the audience.

Steadily though, as the referential choices in aesthetics and visual effects conflict with the original narrative, Macbeth stumbles upon the groundwork the team has been laying. The tenacious team delivers an intense script in a short amount of time, and while expected scenes can come across as rushed or compact, the key moments have time to ferment and allow performers the opportunity to play with Shakespeare’s culture-defining words.

The inclusion of the audience through Zoom comes with detriment. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is by no means a cheery tale, drenching itself in bloodshed, treachery and the arcane, but comedic elements are present in the text, and humorous adaptations exist. Not fully committing to naturally integrating the two means director Zoë Seaton’s decision to dip to-and-fro between the two means the humour doesn’t offset the serious nature of the script, indeed stifling moments.

The existential dread and weight of the crown, the deceit and treachery which taints Macbeth’s heart never visualises itself in this production. Dennis Herdman’s tyrannical king evokes an unhinged presence, but never that of a shattered man who strips his morality for power. The direction of the piece, which utilises a multitude of camera angles over Zoom doesn’t help with Herdman’s performance, as the close-ups feel distracting and fail to reinforce the character he is attempting to convey.

To the contrary, Nicky Harley’s gleeful malevolence of Lady Macbeth – the real star of any successful Macbeth adaptation, balances the antagonistic desires with a, dare we say, relatable attitude. Harley uses space keenly to develop Lady Macbeth, contorting herself and bringing an otherwise missing physicality to the performance to communicate her turmoil without mugging into the camera. She holds the production together, propped up by the trio, Lucia McAnespie, Aonghus óg McAnally and Dharmesh Patel who take on the roles of the three witches among others across the tale in various skits.

Additionally, the reliance on these aforementioned skits can come across as a peculiar choice, but it brings a freshness to the show. The press conferences, ‘witch screenings’ and royal waves from the audience leave an impact – the issue is they leave a significantly larger impression than what should be major performances, McAnally and McAnespie in particular diving into the roles with a sense of characterised glee which distracts from the occasional tech slip-up.

Breathing new life into this Shakespearean staple is complicated, and Seaton’s adaptation certainly takes unexpected steps to diversify Macbeth. In parts success is achieved, incorporating humour and a contemporary feel via the Zoom format, but the production struggles with the basics of Macbeth’s character and grasp of the language.

Review published for The Reviews Hub

Information on the event can be sourced here.

Emergency Appeal for Capital Theatres – #SaveOurTheatres

Across Scotland, venues are struggling to maintain a future and stave off the fears of going dark permanently. Tragically, the dawning reality is that the coming months will determine the fates of Scotland’s cultural hubs for generations to come.

Capital Theatres, the charity responsible for running Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre, The Studio and heart of the trio The King’s have had little choice but to launch a crowdfunding campaign to secure £50,000 to ensure they are able to raise the curtain once more – when safe to do so. Doing so, not only to preserve the cities cultural integrity but to secure the high quality of accessible arts for Edinburgh’s vulnerable communities.

From online Tea & Jamming sessions, Dementia-friendly programmes and teaching aids for children during Lockdown, Capital Theatres has maintained its commitment to the communities despite halting live, in-person events. With 92% of the staff currently furloughed, with a small section able to work from home, the charity faces a dire situation.

Now, this is nothing new, and we here at Corr Blimey have asked your help in supporting the arts community and venues throughout lockdown, but for those unable to provide financial assistance they can help aid in another key way. Starting up a petition on Change.org they are calling on the Scottish Government’s support to recognise the severity of the situation:

‘We cannot let this happen. ​We need you to help us demonstrate to ​the government ​that Capital Theatres is worth equal investment ​to our theatre compatriots, to save our iconic venues before it’s too late’

Despite persistent appeals from Capital Theatres regarding the position they find themselves concerning the depleted funds they had to refurbish the King’s Theatre, support has so far been minimal from the government. Campaigning to receive funding: “at the same level as other publicly supported theatres,” this would go towards enabling the charity to play their role in Edinburgh’s year-round art scene, boosting the local and national economy, stating:

‘ from dementia friendly music concerts, ​to storytelling projects with Special Needs Schools and performance workshops with care experienced young adults. During June and July alone, we engaged with over 600 people each week through our digital activities.

Without significant external help, we will struggle to survive this prolonged period of closure with no ticket income. We need funding to continue delivering our work behind closed doors and to prepare the theatres to reopen when we are able to safely do so.

Faced with the harrowing decision of whether to remove their workers or risk the closure of The King’s theatre entirely, CEO Fiona Gibson issued a frank and blunt warning to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, that without the necessary funds and protection the decision would need to be called.

From auld Leithers to the fresh faces of Marchmont Rd and Pollock Halls, there’s no one in the city of Edinburgh, and rarely a person in Scotland who at one time or another hasn’t been impacted by the glittering spectacle of the Festival, the intimate creative-furnace of The Studio or the majesty of the old lady of Leven Street that is our beloved King’s Theatre. With support, the charity hopes to be able to bounce back and push forward and make a welcome comeback, but likely with reduced seating capacity needs ours, and the government’s help to do so.

Crowdfunder Page

Change.org Petition

Get Duked! – Amazon Prime

Written & Directed by Ninian Doff 

UK / 2019 / 87 mins

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Not much happens in the Highlands, right? An endless majesty of woodland, glens and hills, the Scottish Highlands are home to scatterings of locals, farmers, wildlife, and a few unfortunate kids who have been roped into The Duke of Edinburgh Award. What, though, if while traversing the rolling fogs of this landscape, this envy of the world, something was watching you? Something archaic, powerful, and known to prey upon the ‘plebs’ – The Aristocracy.

Get Duked! finds three lads from Glasgow – Declan, Dean and DJ Beetroot – sent on a ‘character building’ mission to earn their The Duke of Edinburgh Awards, a series of orienteering, hiking and teamwork exercises, where they are joined by Ian (Samuel Bottomley) – a boy keen to improve his university CV. Overcoming thirst, the cold and the munchies, this gang grow closer as they endeavour to finish the hike, claim their laminated certificates and escape this hellhole of hunters, bread-thieves and no phone signal.

Rather cleverly, and despite presumptions, the boys aren’t callous towards Ian – even if he is a bit of a nerd. Ninian Doff writes the group as just a bunch of attitude-driven teens and a bit thick – but never stereotyped as bullies or thugs. Much of this is down to engaging performances across the board, with Rian Gordon and Lewis Gribben bringing a particular energy and genuine enjoyment to the film that makes their characters relatable and entertaining.

Figured in the distance, high above his prey, ‘The Duke’ already stations himself in a superior status to the ‘vermin’ he hunts. A perfectly cast Eddie Izzard channels his notorious chatty, charismatic and distinctive English brand of humour directly into the character. His commitment to the role is complete with pompous posturing that creates a threat to our four lads – it’s just a bloody shame that Izzard isn’t used to his full potential after his introduction.

Somewhat disjointed, the film suffers from an issue with the direction and tone, with half of the cast performing a comedic film with a scary premise, while the others inhabit a horror film with humorous elements. Even in the principal cast, there seem to be moments where Doff’s direction leans heavily on the humour button at the cost of tension. An over-excess of ‘shock’ wording and gags slowly chips away at the feeling our characters are fleshed-out, and instead serve as mere walking punchlines. Most notably, Scottish treasure Georgie Glen flatters to deceive as The Duke’s wife; after an introduction which halts the film with a brief paralyzing fear, she quickly loses any aura of danger shortly after.

Patrick Miller’s distinct flair for wide shots place the threats these boys face far enough away to be acknowledged but close enough to register discomfort. Gradually, as The Duke and his wife grow closer to (and more frequently, move in front of) the camera, their impact lessens.

Doff’s directorial debut is, regardless of anything, an impressive outing. Get Duked! is a complete piece, wherein issues arise not from poor filmmaking, but directorial decisions and tone. For fans of crass humour, who dip their toes into the horror aesthetic, Doff’s work will undoubtedly bring laughs, cheap scares and a few banging tracks. For any hoping for a Highland Attack the Block or CountrycideGet Duked!‘s pulled punches and boasts of trashing elitist nature can’t cut the mustard – but it’s worth the watch just for legendary Scots actor James Cosmo getting high off rabbit droppings.

Available to watch now on Amazon Prime Video

Review published for The Wee Review