It's a brave writer who attempts to add to or tweak the existing Shakespeare canon, and Gloria Carreno's new piece A Season Before the Tragedy of Macbeth, while accomplished, falls into the rather predictable trap of not being up to the quality of the existing work. The grasp of language is impressive, as is the thought and research that clearly went into this new project, but the final result is unfortunately a little flawed. This production struggles impressively through and make the piece all the more watchable, but a plethora of small flaws mean this entire project is, while enjoyable and a credit to the team involved, nothing too special. It is still a commendable effort, and the final piece is something Shakespeare enthusiasts will appreciate and enjoy, but is that really enough?
If you've ever wondered what led up to the events of Shakespeare's classic Macbeth, this new piece by Gloria Carreno is definitely one to see, artfully blending fact and fiction into a new piece of quasi-Shakespearean drama. Carreno posits how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth may have met, and what their histories may have been, leading into one of the better known Shakespeare pieces. While the story is clearly well researched and much like in tone and language to the piece it is emulating, there are more than a couple of stumbling blocks, leaving the production with a lot to do in the short hour in which it runs.
The scriptual issues are mainly plot-based, although the biggest bugbear in the room is iambic pentameter, which seems to have be sidelined pretty early on in the process: the Shakespearean language, without the poetic form, is nowhere near as pretty to the ear. This, combined with the general tendency to describe over show events within the plot structure, leaves much of the production stuck in direct conversation between the leads: a little static at best. There is also a general sense of anti-climax throughout the whole piece: the plot pootles along, setting the scene for the grim plot arc of Macbeth, but never really following much of an arc of its own; nowhere near enough happens to constitute a good reason as to why this story should be told.
Luckily, the production company and cast struggled through the script with some aplomb, and many of their efforts paid off. A much needed fight scene at the beginning of the piece felt completely out of place, but picked up the pace excellently from the off, and set the scene well for the excellent Alexis Strum, playing Lady Macbeth (who was exasperatingly called Lady Macduff in this script, which may be historically accurate, but just adds confusion where none is needed). Her strength and poise gave her character some much needed gravitas, although the villainous turn she starts to take was just a little bit to cliche to believe. Backing her up effectively was Julian Brown as Macbeth, a great portrayal of the grunting soldier, although there was little to see here of the warrior-poet of Shakespeare's original. Also commendable was Joseph Law as the Servant: although his comedy moments were a bit too hammy, he did add convincingly to the whole.
In short, this piece of theatre is an interesting effort, and a great evening's entertainment for the Shakespeare enthusiast. That being said, there are some big flaws here, and both writer and company need to spend a bit of time refining this production if they hope to take it any further.
Reviewed by Chris Hislop 07/08/10