It is difficult to think of a Shakespeare play more violent than Macbeth: in almost every scene someone is either being killed, going to be killed or reporting the killings of others. It is hard for theatre to convey the sheer brutal horror of all this slaughter: there is only so much staged sword fighting an audience can be expected to stomach and this is why so much of the gore is described rather than depicted by Shakespeare.
400 years later our world is scarcely less violent than medieval Scotland and it is this unhappy truth that underpins director Joel Scott’s ‘The Devil Speaks True’ at The Vaults in London. In Scott’s multimedia production audience members participate in and perceive the plot of Macbeth from within the mind of Banquo, whilst simultaneously experiencing contemporary accounts of post traumatic stress disorder from three veterans of recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Scott achieves this unlikely feat by equipping every audience member with a pair of wireless headphones through which – in disturbingly impressive surround sound – Shakespeare’s lines are juxtaposed with extracts from interviews with the 21st century servicemen. Projection, scents, blasts of air and an engaging physical performance from a solitary actor taking on the role of Banquo’s body all contribute to an unsettling experience caught somewhere between voyeurism and verbatim theatre.
The idea of Banquo and Macbeth as veterans suffering from PTSD, for whom the witches and their prophesies are disturbing hallucinations, is an excellent notion for a full production of the play. On the other hand, the soldiers’ stories require no help from the Bard to speak for themselves and – while I am not entirely convinced that the two threads of the production hang together – such a creative use of headphones and soundscape to enhance a theatrical experience is surely something Shakespeare would have approved of wholeheartedly.
By David Trennery
The Devil Speaks True runs at the Vault festival until the 27th February. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.vaultfestival.com/event/the-devil-speaks-true/2016-02-17/.