WE can only hope that it will not be long before we see the work of the Citizens Theatre’s acclaimed artistic director Dominic Hill back on a stage. For now, however, we have the opportunity to revisit one of his fine studio productions in this filmed version of his 2017 piece The Macbeths.

Based, needless to say, on Shakespeare’s legendary “Scottish play”, Hill’s drama is a carefully truncated two-hander in which the titular regicidist couple plot, rise and fall within the four walls of their bedroom.

The Covid-era has, inevitably, led to theatre companies across the world seeking refuge online. Many of their offerings (including some of the work of big hitters like the National Theatre of Great Britain) have been disappointingly pale imitations of stage shows.

The National:

Hill’s hour-long movie (which is co-directed by Martyn Robertson of Urbancroft Films) avoids this trap quite brilliantly. Firstly, by choosing what is, quite literally, a piece of chamber theatre, the directors have a drama that lends itself beautifully to the intensity and proximity of film.

Secondly, Hill’s keen awareness of the emotional and psychological impacts of his aesthetic choices is reflected in a series of powerful filmmaker’s techniques (audio as well as visual). Consequently, the movie succeeds in transforming Hill’s superb stage play into a new film work that is bespoke to the possibilities of the screen.

Working with the piece’s outstanding, original cast of Charlene Boyd (Lady Macbeth) and Keith Fleming (Macbeth), Hill and Robertson shoot the film almost entirely in black and white. The choice of monochrome lends the movie an additional potency.

Fascinatingly, black and white film gives the abundant blood of Hill’s play a more sinister dimension. The more Boyd and Fleming’s characters become steeped in the gore of their victims, the more they seem to be wading in a dark, demonic treacle.

This abbreviated, intensified play is perfectly suited to claustrophobic close ups and rapid cutaways. When Macbeth announces to his wife that he will not pursue his promised murder of King Duncan, we can almost taste the contempt of his spouse as Boyd spits out the famous words: “When you durst do it, then you were a man.”

If the film captures the play’s memorable emphasis upon the sexual dynamics of the Macbeths’ relationship, it also reflects impressively Hill’s intelligent focus on the depth of their bereavement. It is rare to see a production of Macbeth take time to dwell upon the deep grief the childless couple must feel about the death of their infant child (as intimated by Shakespeare in Lady M’s line “I have given suck”).

The National:

Here, with a filmic intensity that almost matches that of the studio production, Hill (above) and Robertson give us Lady M drawing the child’s toys and clothes from under the bed. As the camera shifts from one to the other, we see both the bond that bereavement has created between the couple, and the chasm it has placed between them.

Boyd and Fleming’s remarkable performances in 2017 are equally powerful here. Paradoxically, their playing appears to be free-falling, whilst being utterly controlled.

Like Hill’s play, the film is set in a pre-digital, mid-20th century context, in which events external to the bedroom are brought in, cleverly, by means of audio surveillance tapes. The movie is also blessed with a broodingly atmospheric, sometimes frighteningly jagged musical score by Matthew Whiteside.

The piece is topped and tailed with moments of footage that make reference to the movie’s theatrical origins. It is to the film’s great credit that it succeeds in transposing to the screen the unforgettable, dark passion of the original stage play.

To watch the film online, visit: themacbethsfilm.co.uk