Second Age's production of 'Macbeth'. Photo: Colm Hogan

Second Age's production of 'Macbeth'. Photo: Colm Hogan

Second Age's production of 'Macbeth'. Photo: Colm Hogan

Second Age's production of 'Macbeth'. Photo: Colm Hogan

Second Age's production of 'Macbeth'. Photo: Colm Hogan

Second Age's production of 'Macbeth'. Photo: Colm Hogan

"Life," Macbeth famously declares in Act V of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, with the armies of Malcolm and Macduff encroaching upon the castle of Dunsinane “is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. They may be the ramblings of man accepting the certainty of his own death, but Macbeth’s musings also seem to contain an implicit challenge to every company that produces Macbeth: how to impose something loftier and meaningful upon a work of theatre with more bloodshed than your typical action film? There is no shortage of primal rage in Second Age’s very contemporary production of Macbeth, which is now touring the country, but there are also touches of grandeur.

It is obvious that we are in a different corner of Scotland once the first melancholic notes of Radiohead’s ‘Videotape’ are played about a minute into the first act. It’s one of the many liberties that director David Horan takes with the text, though his eye never strays too far from the homicidal heart of the play. This is a relatively small production – the cast of 11 means some of the actors have to double up for smaller roles – and the demands of the text inspire an inventiveness throughout. The witches, for example, are played by three men (the ski goggles they wore and the darkness they were immersed in made it impossible to discern who they were).

Horan’s re-imagining of Macbeth is strongly influenced by cinema, and movement director Bryan Burroughs is utilised to great effect.  Actors do not simply appear on stage: they run onto it in slow motion. Similarly, the witches begin the play supine on the stage and rise up as if out of some mire. The battle scenes are vivid and believably violent, with a plentiful supply of red sand used instead of blood. But this is not a Macbeth that takes itself too seriously either. Damian Kearney’s drunken Porter has a distinct Kerry lilt but also has a few new lines up his sleeve, poking fun at the subtitle machines used during the performance, while referring to the stage itself. At its best, this Macbeth is blissfully disorienting.

Macbeth will always be a play about the lust for power, and Will Irvine and Maeve Fitzgerald anchor the production with strong performances as the couple cursed with the knowledge that they will one day rule Scotland. Fitzgerald’s Lady Macbeth is almost demented by the thought of power, while Irvine’s Macbeth is gallantly undone by carnage he creates. While Shakespeare’s Elizabethan prose proved challenging in places, the cast was generally adept, especially Enda Kilroy’s Banquo and Karl Quinn’s Macduff.

The novelty of this Macbeth comes largely from the production team. With a glass wall at the back of the stage, Maree Kearns’s stage set has the look of a conservatory in a house in Japan, enabling characters to use the space behind the wall for covert conversations and spirits often gather there. Phillip Stewart’s sound design – full of drones and metallic whooshes – creates an atmosphere of supernatural menace, while Sinéad McKenna’s lighting design enhances the murderous mood of darkness that ferments throughout the play.

In all, this is a riveting production that is highly accessible to younger audiences. Shakespearians may recoil at the sound of Thom Yorke’s vocals interspersed at various points throughout this production, but the risks that Second Age take with this well-worn text are largely all satisfying.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

30 Jan - 29 March, 2012 (on tour)

Produced by Second Age Theatre Company
In Glór, Ennis

Directed by David Horan

Movement Direction: Bryan Burroughs

Set & Costume Design: Maree Kearns

Lighting Design: Sinéad McKenna

Sound Design: Philip Stewart

With: Will Irvine, Maeve Fitzgerald, Enda Kilroy, Damian Kearney, Karl Quinn, Bill Murphy, Will O’Connell, Marie Ruane, Alan Howley, Mark Fitzgerald, Gavin Fullam.


Spring 2012 tour: George Bernard Shaw, Carlow - February 2 & 3; Siamsa Tíre, Kerry - February 7; Glór, Ennis - February 10; Helix, Dublin - February 21 to March 9; Townhall Theatre, Galway - March 13 to 15; Everyman Palace, Cork - March 21 & 22; Theatre Royal, Waterford - March 27; Civic Theatre, Tallaght - March 29, 2012.