This is a deadly tale of invasion, murder and the propagation of evil. It is a tragedy, of course, exploring how one death leads to another, and another, in a downward cycle of assassination that becomes normalised and unspeakable.
The play, from Suitcase Theatre, represents a stripped-down version of Macbeth adapted by Brighton-based director Tess Garrett. The themes remain contemporary, from Ukraine to Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. What is going on inside the mind of the despot?
Macbeth is a complex, noble and high-ranking character – tempted by evil – who descends to undertake murders in order to maintain that status. Do we see death happening? No, it is all offstage. We never see the knives, the swords or the assassinations. There is a tension, a stillness, and a disbelief which is barely expressed, but hangs in the air as the play reaches its denouement.
In this version, Shakespeare’s drama is cleverly transposed from 11th century Scotland to a 1930s Brighton Rock era of gambling and racketeering. So it also takes inspiration from a Graham Greene underworld of gang leaders involved in conspiracy and extortion behind a cafe ‘front’ organisation.
But how would it feel to hear there were troops invading from the west, with battles in Worthing and Angmering and reaching the boundaries of Hove…? We would know more evil was to come. Mobile phones had not been invented back then: so check the tarot for updates.
Could we still claim today that this was only a story, “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”? This adaption certainly retains the important and pertinent lyrical gems.
Tess Garrett, who directs (and acts in) this convincing three-women adaption, told us she “reimagined the play to put women centre stage and give them the opportunity to play the great roles.” Tess points to the dynamic between the characters when portrayed by women.
Her role was boosted by superb performances by Liz Stapleton and Jessica Easterbrook. Meanwhile, scene changes and dramatic shifts were punctuated by the elegant and tangled chords of Matt Easterbrook’s guitar. The performance was complemented by the minimum props, sparse lighting and cabaret style of the Starfish & Coffee cafe venue. The play is selling out fast in Brighton Fringe but watch out for Suitcase Theatre’s other shows.
This is tension and disbelief of murder known but not spoken. You know what dictators are like. Exquisite and deadly contemporary drama.
Starfish & Coffee, 32 Egremont Place, 13th-15th May 2022
Tickets available here
Photos by Jonah Jago