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Review: Macbeth – Focusing on the human, for a contemporary audience.

The Leaving Certificate show is a staple in UCD Dramsoc's calendar; Dylan O'Neill reviews this year's interpretation of "Macbeth". Photo courtesy of UCD Dramsoc.

UCD Dramsoc’s production of the Shakespearean tragedy Macbeth deviates from the traditional portrayals, moving focus away from the supernatural, and emphasises the interpersonal relationships between the characters. The deterioration of said relationships as the play progresses is placed front and centre, and is the running theme throughout the show. Another major theme which Director Adele Crilly wanted to focus on was the character’s obsession with the image they projected outward.

Where Crilly’s direction differs from other productions, is that even supporting characters are shown to have differences between their image and their thoughts, not just Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

Soliloquies provide even the most novice theatregoer with the contrast between the character’s internal thought processes and what they present to the rest of the world. Where Crilly’s direction differs from other productions, is that even supporting characters are shown to have differences between their image and their thoughts, not just Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This delivered a clear message to the audience that every character has the potential to be as calculating as Macbeth with how they present themselves and their desires.

Crilly surprisingly chose to remove most of the use of blood in the production, something that has been a staple of many previous renditions in what is considered Shakespeare’s “bloodiest play.” This is particularly noticeable in the ambush of Banquo and the siege of Macduff’s castle. These choreographed sections seemed tame for what was unravelling onstage.

The set of stone castle walls with the language of Renaissance vernacular, contrasted with the cast’s costumes of military attire, juxtaposing two distinct time periods on stage.

Crilly’s intention to make the tragedy more accessible to a younger audience stumbled in translating the historical setting to modern times. The set of stone castle walls with the language of Renaissance vernacular, contrasted with the cast’s costumes of military attire, juxtaposed two distinct time periods on stage. However, this did little to take away from the production.

The entire ensemble performed strongly to deliver a vividly bleak world full of mistrust and treachery, based off of individual’s ambition and palpable chemistry between characters.

Front and centre of this ensemble is Macbeth, played by Dramsoc veteran Donagh Ruane. Ruane introduces the audience to the treacherous Macbeth as a cool and calculating battled-hardened general. At times, his reserved demeanour seems out of place, especially when he is presented with hallucinations of a dagger before ultimately deciding to give in to his own ambitious desires. The banquet scene, is the highlight for Ruane’s portrayal, where he really embraces the madness of his character for the first time, and is well received by the audience with audible gasps of shock.

Where others playing Lady Macbeth have embraced an over-dramatic physical presence onstage, especially in her first soliloquy; Moloney remained motionless, as if not truly believing in the spirits she called upon to fill her “from the crown to the toe top with direst cruelty.”

Emma Moloney assumed the role of Lady Macbeth, and gave a more grounded portrayal of the “fiend-like queen.” Being equally calculating as Ruane’s Macbeth, Moloney gives the impression of realism with her body language throughout the show. Where others playing Lady Macbeth have embraced an over-dramatic physical presence onstage, especially in her first soliloquy; Moloney remained motionless, as if not truly believing in the spirits she called upon to fill her “from the crown to the toe top with direst cruelty.” Her decision to let go of this conscience choice of movement in her dreamlike state, perhaps best delivers Crilly’s theme of obsession over image, and arguably stands out from Ruane’s Macbeth.

Ryan Haran and Johnjoe Irwin provide the main foils for Macbeth within in show, as Banquo and Macduff respectively. Haran’s more youthful portrayal of Banquo changed the dynamic to a mentor/mentee relationship between him and Macbeth. As a first year with the society, Haran shows great promise as a Shakespearean actor in the future. Irwin provided the deepest contrast in terms of emotional delivery with Ruane. His anguish from hearing the news of his family really convinces the audience of his drive in the final battle with Macbeth.

Despite the mystical force of the witches not being prioritised as it has been in other productions, Aoife O’Donoghue, Moira Anna Bender and Fiona Larmon stood out with a very physical and childlike performance as the evil and conniving witches. Introducing a partition in the set to signify the passing through the veil between worlds worked well for this production, especially for the scenes featuring the witches. The use of completely black clothing for the witches, allowed them to blend into the shadows adding to the sinister atmosphere of their scenes. Ana Canals, as Hecate, gave a commanding delivery, a role which she has played before in other shows. Canals has found her character and perfected it.

Finally, the supporting cast made up of Colin Gilligan, Keith Feenan, Jack Hanrahan, Jen Keating, Peter Simpson, Jack McEvoy, Hugh Carr and Oran Lynch fulfilling different is a testament to their experience with Shakespeare’s works.

Finally, the supporting cast made up of Colin Gilligan, Keith Feenan, Jack Hanrahan, Jen Keating, Peter Simpson, Jack McEvoy, Hugh Carr and Oran Lynch fulfilling different character demands is a testament to their experience with Shakespeare’s works. Gilligan gave a very stoic and authoritative depiction of King Duncan with the little stage time the character has in the show. Carr on the other hand, had one of the very few comedic roles as the porter, and made the jokes accessible to the audience through his distinct and memorable delivery.

UCD Dramsoc’s Macbeth has been tailored for the Leaving Certificate audience with the most memorable scenes being the scenes my English teacher focused on when deconstructing the play. Crilly’s direction stays true to the original play with a few decisions that frame the show in a different light. Aside from a few first show hiccups, the memorable performances from the cast will remain with audiences for the remainder of the run, and hopefully for some, until English Paper II in June.