FringeReview UK 2016
A visceral performance and an intimate insight into the psychological impact of war, The Devil Speaks True recounts the story of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as told by Banquo. As you sit in complete darkness wearing wireless headphones, an immersive world of sound, video and live performance places you at the centre of Banquo’s rapidly unraveling existence, transporting you from bloody battlefield to spectral banquet. Shakespeare’s text is interspersed with accounts from ex-servicemen to root this auditory adventure in the chilling realities of the camaraderie and after-effects of war.
The Devil Speaks True takes as its starting point the character of Banquo from Macbeth. Director of Goat and Monkey theatre, Joel Scott became interested in the character, and the things that he sees and experiences in the play (strange visions, bubbling ground, sleepless nights) after talking to a friend of his who was kidnapped in Iraq and now suffers from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Following this conversation he began to wonder whether the things Banquo talks about were in fact symptoms of PTSD, following on from the horrific battle he and Macbeth have just left at the start of Act 1.
This marrying Banquo’s journey with the PTSD experienced by contemporary people who have been in conflict zones forms the backbone of the play. Verbatim recordings with servicemen and Scott’s kidnapped friend interweave with sections of the original Shakesperean text to highlight the parallels between these modern experiences and Banquo’s personal hell.
For much of the play the audience is in darkness, wearing wireless headphones, which whisper binaurally into your ears in a disconcerting and very effective way. However, this darkness is occasionally illuminated to reveal an actor onstage, dressed in army fatigues, portraying the physical torment of what it is to live with PTSD in a very beautiful and lyrical way. At times he is almost dancing, and at others we can feel the dull horror of betrayal as Banquo realises that it is Macbeth who is killing him.
The parts with the actor were largely underscored by sections of the text from Macbeth, which were fragmented and often whispered. This was therefore quite difficult to understand, and even being aware of the basic plot of Macbeth, it was hard to work out who was speaking or what part of the story we were witnessing. I would have preferred to hear more experiences of PTSD – perhaps from different eras, and for there to have been less focus on the Shakespearean text.
The company also tried to use the darkness to fully assault all the senses, and there were times where scents were sprayed into the audience. Whilst I applaud the idea behind this, and love the thought of such an experience being made more visceral, sadly the smells were extremely overpowering, and at time I was not sure what link they had to story being told.
Overall this was a very interesting piece of theatre, told in a pleasingly unique way. The involvement of veteran’s stories was very powerful and illuminating, and I am just sorry there was not more focus on these.