John McCullagh March 29, 2007

When, in his assessment of Newpoint’s modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, adjudicator Scott Marshall opened with a brief comparative reference to the century’s great dictators, we in the audience hoped he had a comprehension of the masterstroke executed by Newpoint’s Director Sean Treanor in this production. 


Not so.    After that initial remark, Mr Marshall simply chose to ignore all the modern relevance!

 
 

In Sean Treanor’s adaptation, gone was the Shakespearean happy resolution, that of the new King Malcolm auguring in a reign of peace and calm: the new denouement saw Malcolm instead deliver a Judas kiss of betrayal as he marked his brother, and only rival for his throne for immediate execution; an event with which the play closed. 

Naked and brutal ambition clearly was to be the mark of the future, as of the present and of the past.  There were shades here, physical and spiritual, of all the ills of society.  The siren ‘witches’ were omnipresent shades and overtly sexual, as with so much of modern society: there were the traditional shades too, Banquo’s ghost and Lady Macbeth’s menace, in death as in life, from her scheming and manipulation to her manic sleep-walking and eventual suicide. 

So much was evocative of modern society’s ills and uncertainties; the ‘war without end’ against ‘terror’ in the 21st century,  the brutality of modern urban society and of all the other ills that afflict us.  

It was strangely appropriate, I felt, that in the real-life, the day’s news told of up to 10,000 British soldiers who have gone AWOL since the start of the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars – unable to face the physical and psychological trauma of modern warfare.

The Bard’s tragedy already included a depressing litany of regicide, murders, betrayal and infanticide but to this the Newpoint director added knee-cappings, fratricide and all the gratuitous violence of Dublin‘s drug-dealing street gangs.   Appropriate, I thought, as with the resolution of the Northern ‘Troubles’ at hand, there is still not a week goes by without a drug-related gun murder in the Republic.

Quite amazingly, the latter, the abiding theme of this production simply went over the head of this year’s adjudicator, despite the fact that the drug theme was brilliantly illustrated, over and over again, and despite the subtitle advertised in the official programme, "in Ireland 2007".

Marshall particularly admired the playing, colour and movement of the ever-present ‘witches’, without apparently recognising their siren role in portraying the drug culture and illustrating especially how deeply that has penetrated all levels of society!

True, the production was lessened with the technical breakdown of the backdrop projection, which was intended to repeatedly illustrate the recurrent themes throughout.   Yet if your editor, the present writer could grasp the import, I fail to comprehend why Mr Marshall could not!

I mean – Lady Macbeth applying a tourniquet and injecting her husband, to give him the courage to murder Duncan in his sleep!? Is there another possible meaning to this action?

The adjudicator was unable to reconcile with the dialogue of Shakespearean verse, the modern dress and gadgets (Lady Macbeth delivering one soliloquy as a received text message on her mobile; and the leather-jacket dressed ‘godfathers’ {thanes, in this as in the original} celebrating with cans of beer).

Which would he prefer that the director might sacrifice? Perhaps the modern relevance? Or is it the language of the Bard, which has never been equalled in the ensuing four hundred years? ‘Nothing in life suited him as the leaving of it’. 

‘These people would never speak like that!’ Marshall insisted, in his concluding remarks.

No.  And that’s the challenge for the modern audience.  A challenge we are equal to.

I accept that some of the players have work to do on their diction and delivery. But it was the playing in the round that the adjudicator could not stomach, or reconcile in his mind.

I thought he might be seeking the sympathetic endorsement of a confused audience. But if so, he was misguided. The Newry audience is famously critical. And they LOVED this production.

Mr Marshall was, quite simply, wrong!

This was a triumph! Far and away the most ambitious, rounded and perfected production of the week. And, I suspect, of the whole Festival.

That it will not win should not cause the cast or the director much pain, despite the months of hard work invested.

This Macbeth will remain with me for decades to come (if decades I have!) and will go down as one of the all-time greats of Newry amateur drama.

My heartiest congratulations to each and every member of this wonderful cast.

And especially to Sean Treanor, Newpoint’s Director.

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