Originally written for Exeunt.
At the Globe to Globe festival, murder has never been such a social event. All of the major scenes in this brashly vibrant Polish production seem to occur at lavish parties, under the watchful if drink-blurred vision of the witches, here recast as a gaggle of gloriously camp transvestites. In these hedonistic surroundings, as a slurring, stumbling Duncan attempts to strip and unapologetically feels up Lady Macbeth, the plot-propelling act of violence seems more of an escalation of well-oiled passions than an act of calculated ambition. This is homicidal guilt figured as one long hangover, as Michał Majnicz’s increasingly dishevelled Macbeth howls his way through murder after murder.
Despite possessing such a familiar plot, little is recognisable about this reimagining of the play. Numerous inexplicable alterations have been made to Shakespeare’s text, including the addition of a scene-stealing witch named Lola, who might well have been inspired by the Kinks track. But while it may bear only a passing resemblance to the Scottish Play that British audiences are used to, this Macbeth has clearly been designed as a visceral experience rather than a linguistic, intellectual one. To overcome the language barrier, Teatrim Kochanowskiego have drawn on pop culture and visual bravado; colourful, explosive images assault our retinas, while music – everything from Michael Jackson to ‘I Will Survive’ – throbs away in the background. It is messily joyous spectacle, tragedy in the style of Steps rather than Aristotle.
Grasping for any overarching metaphorical unity to tame this sensory riot produces empty hands. There are loosely recurring motifs, the most prominent of these being an overt, swaggering sexuality that lends the production its cautious ‘adult content’ warning. Majnicz and Judyta Paradziń as the bloody handed couple crackle with mutual lust, a sexual desire that seems tangled up with their murderous acts, while one witch unexpectedly indulges Macbeth with a blow job following his ascent to the throne. Amid a circus of playful, riotous colour, one of the production’s most genuinely disturbing images is presented in a scene in which Lady Macduff is brutally raped. Yet when reassembled, these strands do not weave into any identifiable shape. If there is a defining texture to the piece, it is one of vague seediness pasted over with sequins and glitter.
No matter how fragile the basis for its interpretation, however, the sheer visual audacity of this production is enough to provoke a wistful yearning for more aesthetic creativity in British theatre. Flaws aside, this is an ideal marriage of production and festival, eventually embracing the party atmosphere that seems to buzz from the Globe. It may not be Macbeth as any of us know it, but this is anarchically beautiful, visually ingenious, vodka-drenched fun.