Eugene Ionesco’s position as a pioneer of the Theatre of the Absurd is embodied within the play of Macbett, and you should expect nothing less in this production, as the futility of war is explored in unrelenting comedic fashion, with a nod to William Shakespeare’s iconic Macbeth. Certainly, it is the comedy of this piece that really sets it apart.
The opening scene of the play introduces the omniscient and meddling creatures with a flamboyant and, essentially, bizarre dance routine that is coherent in its incoherency – with incoherency being the crucial point of the play. Two of the three creatures – the Owl (Daniella Finch), and the Bunny (Joe Hincks) – dominate the stage with their eye-catching movements. This is not, however, the first time the Bunny bounds into view within the production, as he also enthusiastically greets audience members in the foyer.
The humour and laugh-out-loud moments within the play are numerous, with all cast members contributing to the sarcastic, ironic, and boisterous comedy. The duo of Glamiss (Beth Angella), and Candor (Sasha Gibson), give the first real taste of this comedy. Their hilariously enacted frustration at the current ruler establishes a rebellion within the first five minutes of the piece in conjunction with the play’s cause-and-effect presentation of conflict.
“The humour and laugh-out-loud moments within the play are numerous, with all cast members contributing to the sarcastic, ironic, and boisterous comedy”
Another duo within Macbett are the twin brothers of Macbett (Laurence Cuthbert) and Banco (Duncan McGillivray), who are so in tandem with one another that they repeat each other’s dialogue and actions in certain scenes. It would appear that their respective fates are foreshadowed in the ways they each present the same words: Notably, whereas Macbett had centre stage for his poignant speech, Banco’s identical attempt was undermined by someone furiously dusting… and hoovering under his feet.
In regards to the dialogue, it does not deviate from what one would expect in an absurdist play: it is full of repetitive phrases, comedic irony, and self-conscious clichés that work to undermine the military concerns of (some of) the characters. This repetitively structured language works alongside the cyclical plot of the piece to alienate the audience from any sympathies as the character’s do not attempt to prevent the cause-and-effect chain of futile and destructive events – rather they fall like dominos into place. Whilst this endless cycle of events can be exhausting in a plot (and at times, it is), the cast of this production really bring the story to life with their humorous antics that provide substance to the insanity.
Macbett, the protagonist of the parody pastiche in many respects, is played well by Laurence Cuthbert, who effectively shows the character’s deterioration into madness brought on by power and high-profile position. Cuthbert animates the character so that he goes from carefree and full of life and certainty, to exhaustion and egocentricity. Cuthbert changes Macbett’s mannerisms and idiosyncrasies in accordance with this spiralling depletion brought on by war.
“Crucially, this is what Macbett aims for: promoting its messages about power and conflict in a way that makes the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of it all”
The ever-present manipulation from the Owl, Bunny, and Raven (Emilie Brittain) exemplifies the corruptive nature of war, whilst also inspiring laughter within a serious message. Crucially, this is what Macbett aims for: promoting its messages about power and conflict in a way that makes the audience laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. It certainly would be ridiculous to not agree with Macbett’s message in its hyperbolic depictions of endless and cyclical conflict. The failed attempts of one character (Izzie Masters) to capture a butterfly metaphorically demonstrates the desire for that which one cannot or should not have: power. With the butterfly personifying freedom, it is evident that there should be no tyranny upon liberty. This is one example of the intermingling of the serious and the comedic within the play.
With the staging of the production in-keeping with the cartoonish landscape that is advertised upon the Macbett flyers and programmes, it is easy to see these characters as belonging to a parody of our own society. Whilst this parody can be repetitive, it is so with a message in mind – it is safe to say, rather ubiquitously, that this production is unique and ambitious, and does not lack funny moments to make it all worthwhile.
Macbett is running at Nottingham New Theatre until Saturday 5th December, for more information see here.