Macbeth with Eerie Headphones
Are less than horrible imaginings.”
The usher said to put on the headphones which are on every seat. The note said to try out the headphones first and the message on them was to make sure they were on the left and right ears correctly. When the play started the sound came from either side and the witches were only heard not seen. Were the witches inside Macbeth (David Tennant)’s head only? Certainly the effect was eerie with these strange voices and sound effects echoing the familiar spell. Could Banquo (Cal McAninch) not also hear the witches’ predictions?
The term is binaural – describing the way we hear sound in real life. My immediate question was if this play which is sold out at the Donmar is to be recorded for cinema or home streaming, could the directional sound be reproduced in those locations? Is it just a gimmick or does the sound quality add to the production? The actors can talk in normal voices; they do not have to project theatrically to be heard.
I was tempted of course to take off the headphones to see if I could still hear the actors, and I could, just. The other impact is the isolating effect of wearing headphones in the theatre audience and not sharing the audience’s response to the play. We could hear the screams of children without seeing them, still chilling. Bruno Poet’s soundscape is creative and mesmerising.
The question about this play has always been for me is whether without meeting the witches, Macbeth would have behaved any differently? I think that Max Webster’s interpretation is to look at the psychology of Macbeth and his Lady (the magnificent Cush Jumbo) rather than the battles and the other factions in the Scottish historyscape.
My other problem with this production is its length, one hour fifty minutes and although intense it feels too rapid, like an abridged Macbeth. The porter (Jatinder Singh Randhawa) is a metatheatrical comedy which, as is usual for me, is a distraction not a relief and a waste of some of the 110 minutes.
This is Tennant’s first Macbeth unless you count last year’s BBC Radio 4 and seems overdue considering his previous work with the RSC on Shakespeare’s plays and of course his natural Scottish accent. He is undoubtedly a warrior, physically in the peak of military fitness who starts to disintegrate at the banquet. Cush Jumbo is as strong as any iron lady and completely lacks any moral counter to her ambition. With the cast dressed in grey shirts and black kilts, her long white dress separates her from the others. Early on she dances with Macbeth in a celebration of his promotion.
I was disappointed that this Macbeth was not as great as I had hoped.
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Max Webster
Brian James O’Sullivan
Jatinder Singh Randhawa
Director : Max Webster
Designer: Rosanna Vize
Composer and Musical Director:
Lighting Designer: Bruno Poet
Sound Designer: Gareth Fry
Movement: Shelley Maxwell
Running Time: One hour 50 minutes without an interval
Booking to 10th February 2024
London WC2H 9LX
Tube : Covent Garden
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge
at the Donmar Warehouse
on 18th December 2023