Bighead Theatre, Charlie Ralph, Dreaming, Dreams, Edinburgh Fringe, En Thompson, Georgie Rodgers, Henry Coldstream, Macbeth Kills the Duchess, Michael Black, Sally Mac, Sasha Briggs, Space on Niddry Street, Theatre Review
[The following contains spoilers.]
Charlie Ralph’s “Macbeth Kills the Duchess” is the debut from Edinburgh’s Bighead theatre company. It has a few slots left at the Space on Niddry Street. The thrill of this play comes from your baffled efforts to place it or work out what exactly it is. At first it seems like a farce, though it never ultimately settles down in this skin. The characters are all twits, as they should be in a farce, and there is a light-heartedness to this play’s observation of them. Yet the jokes come irregularly and they eventually peter out altogether. Sometimes, the play looks interested in growing serious and it appears to approach topics such as the generational malaise of the Millennials. It will abandon these as well in the end. The radicalism of “Macbeth Kills the Duchess” is that it does not devote itself to being outrageous or breathlessly absurdist, but just mildly perplexing. Incongruously, this is a bold piece of theatre that only niggles at you.
Four ne’er-do-wells gather in the depths of a Duchess’ mansion in the dead of night. If this was a farce, they would be plotting to steal her pearls. If this was a serious play, they would resemble Dostoevsky’s or Conrad’s warped terrorists. If this was a keener satire, then these aimlessly motivated youngsters might resemble the jihadists from Chris Morris’ Four Lions. But this play is none of those things – it is “Macbeth Kills the Duchess.” Henceforth, for reasons that will never begin to make sense, even to some their fellow characters, one of the Duchess’ would-be assassins (Sally Mac) is dressed as Macbeth and the other (Michael Black) is dressed as Hamlet’s friend Horatio.
They are not actually dressed as Macbeth or Horatio. Macbeth looks like a Victorian clown whilst Horatio could be a village pantomime Prince Charming. Moreover, the play’s dagger is discarded and the poor Duchess (Georgie Rodgers) is killed with a revolver. This indicates that the title has got it wrong. “Macbeth Does Not Kill the Duchess” would more strictly comply with trading standards regulations.
In order for this story to keep going, you have to accept everything that happens and everything that is said as you would do in a dream. Once you have started to question the plausibility of a dream, then you are awake. I cannot imagine Jack (Henry Coldstream) killing the Duchess, but we are told that this has occurred off-stage and we have to believe it for the play to continue. I cannot imagine a character as commonsensical as Harriet (Sasha Briggs) ever really subscribing to her unfathomable, murderous protest, but you have to believe that she does. It should be impossible for Macbeth or Horatio to ever meet on a stage, and yet here they are.
Perhaps the key to unlock this mystery is a laid back tour guide (En Thompson) who has let the plotters onto the estate and assisted their conspiracy. She ostensibly does this cash-in-hand to help pay for her MA. She listens passively to the murderous plotting with one ear and keeps one eye on a textbook in front of her entitled Ethics. This must be a recurring dream – she has helped other gangs of plotters on previous nights. She almost wakes up when Jack points a knife at her throat. Deep in the cellars of this darkened house, the play unfolds illogically like a dream in the base of a sleeping brain.