The Scottish Play is usually one of Shakespeare’s snappiest works, but this new immersive production of ‘Macbeth’ spits in the face of convention, and demands a whopping half a day from its audiences.
Staging the tragedy overnight from 7.30pm to 9am the next day, Rift theatre company have taken over a floor in the iconic Balfron Tower in east London to perform the murderous tragedy. We follow Macbeth and Lady Macbeth through a series of Eastern Bloc-style rooms as they plan, kill, celebrate and crumble. It’s an uneven evening, that’s pretty much guaranteed to leave you completely exhausted, regardless of whether or not you enjoyed yourself.
The show’s best bits include the banquet scene, where you’re fed borscht and black bread with the newly crowned Macbeth as if you were a part of his crew. Lowri James as Lady Macbeth (there are three casts playing to different groups through the night) is sensual and intense and Humphrey Hardwicke as Macbeth – dressed as a Russian mob boss – is also a commanding presence. The design is meticulous and detailed and hugely evocative of the fictional, Soviet-style setting.
But let’s be clear: this isn’t Punchdrunk. In an audience group of around eight, you’re ushered carefully in and out of rooms with no freedom to explore. The night I saw it there was a lot of waiting for something to happen . A large section of the show plays out on a small black-and-white TV for what seems like an age – it lowers the energy at just the wrong time.
The real disappointment, though, is that the play is wrapped up by about midnight and you’re left to hang about in a bar before traipsing off to an austere dorm with bunk beds and scratchy blankets until you’re woken at 8.30am. From three different booking options, I got the ‘Deluxe' ticket – ie you get a bed: goodness knows what it was like for the people who opted to sleep on the floor.
The morning brings superb views, a croissant and a swift rounding off of the story. This ‘Macbeth’ is undeniably ambitious and with a group of buddies prepared to party on into the early hours it could be fun, but if you’re going for the play alone, prepare for disappointment.