Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Macbain review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘self-indulgent’

Manja Topper and Gillis Biesheuvel in Macbain Manja Topper and Gillis Biesheuvel in Macbain at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo by Sanne Peper

A heavily stoned couple, identified in the programme as Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, attempt to have a coherent conversation between his repeated nodding off and her fits of giggles. Some stage smoke transports us into Shakespeare, and the two actors pop up from behind a couch like Punch and Judy to enact – badly – roughly half of Macbeth. 

More smoke, flashing lights and sound effects and the modern couple are back, quarrelling about things like parents killing children, children killing parents, and spin dryers, with frequent but not particularly useful quotations from Macbeth. A glass ceiling over the set gradually lowers until it pins them under it, and the play stops.

I will admit to not being as immersed in the myths of Kurt and Courtney as some, and there are no doubt allusions and in-jokes (like that spin dryer?) I missed. But Shakespeare is not illuminated in any way by being filtered through Kurt and Courtney, nor do we learn anything about Kurt and Courtney through the Macbeth comparison. 

The performances are clearly impaired by having to be in English and by too loose a directorial hand (if there was any), that allows too free a hand with silly voices, ad libbing and general messing about. The whole thing smacks of an opaque private language and to-hell-with-the-audience self-indulgence.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Juxtaposition of Macbeth and Kurt Cobain tells us far too little about either