William Shakespeare, retold by Andrew Quick, Pete Brooks and Simon Wainwright
imitating the dog
Quays Theatre, The Lowry, Salford
March 8-11, 2023. 2 hrs 20 mins
(also Gala, Durham March 16-17; Liverpool Playhouse April 25-29; Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield May 6-7)
I last saw imitating the dog do their version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in 2019. This takes the same bloody surgery to The Scottish Play.
There’s the same radical reimagining of the story: in this case – and bearing in mind it’s been reduced to five actors to take all roles – we’re in gangsta-land, some indeterminate urban place that looks foreign though they speak a kind of sub-Estuary English; the Three Weirdos (aka witches in Shakespeare) tell the story and act out most of the characters, with just Macbeth and Lady M performed by the remaining pair. There’s a technically virtuosic projection backdrop, plus a couple of screens that relay live close-up camera feeds from the stage itself. This has been done before and elsewhere, and there’s still the slightly out-of-sync effect produced by the image processing, which is slightly slower than the sound. I’m wondering whether imitating the dog is getting to be a bit of a one-trick pony by doing its stuff this way. Yes, it’s filmic, but so what?
It takes about the first 30 minutes for their self-composed backstory to be set up, with just a few snatches of Bill S, after which we get more of the original (sometimes edited) but never completely leave the style of the new-composed text, which relies heavily on using the word “fucking” around every six lines or so.
Who is the company trying to appeal to?, I wondered. The audience on the first night in Salford was mainly schoolkids, brought in for their educational welfare no doubt, though whether anyone over 17 would find it very enlightening is a question to be asked.
Given that everyone is mic’d, the actors seem to have some diction issues (only Laura Atherton was immune to this) and occasionally it all gets a bit too shouty. But some scenes from the original are really well done – the ones least messed-around with, such as the appearance of Banquo at the feast and Lady M’s sleepwalking.
There’s an interesting attempt to make the Macbeths more sympathetic in plot terms than Shakespeare managed. So Duncan’s poor track record as the original “capo” is given in detail near the start, and that’s a motive of a kind for Macbeth to get rid of him. Duncan also has his eyes on Lady M (here a club singer), and she and Macbeth fear he may “move against them” if they don’t get him first. But murder? “Our answer is they just want their lives to be a little less shit,” as the Weirdos helpfully explain, chorus-style. And at the end Lady M, having had a baby, is still in the land of the living and may perhaps have a future after it all.
So some thought-provoking compensations … but there’s a lot to compensate for.
More info and tickets here