Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Rockbeth, More the Merrier, EdFringe 2023, ★★★★☆

Ever since I landed in Edinburgh, went to Hunter’s Square for a rest, and ran into a bunch of lads dressed in ripped jeans, chains, eyeliner and tartan, waving a big flag with a skull and crossbones that had the name of their show on it: Rockbeth, I knew I had to make this one a priority.  The show’s PR, advertising a punk rock musical version of Macbeth, was on point and the design just seemed cool. I wanted to be a part of that cool.

Apparently so did a lot of other people. When I did finally go, the line for seats was spilling out the doors and people kept coming.  I overheard some saying that they were coming back to see it again and that they were so excited.  The aura of cool that pervaded the atmosphere was only intensified as the queue climbed the stairs to the venue and were greeted by a faint twittering sound that grew louder as we took our seats: the cast were standing in a row and whistling to the audience as they came in.  It was choices like these: random, weird, but oh so rad and oh so confident that made Rockbeth a memorable viewing experience.

Rockbeth was billed as “the Scottish play as you’ve never seen it before, twisted with a fistful of rock‘n’roll,” I was expecting rock’n’roll. I was expecting some parody of Macbeth but (for some reason) I wasn’t expecting the play itself. I wasn’t expecting Shakespeare’s original language. So imagine my surprise when the young cast seamlessly blent classic rock and roll hits with timeless soliloquies.

It felt like a proper tribute to Shakespeare: an intensely earthy man and the toast of his days’ pop culture, to imbue his actual words with so much modern panache.  This choice respected the fact that Macbeth itself is already weird and cool and goth by itself.  Its text doesn’t need to be replaced by any parody to achieve maximum coolness.  Instead, Rockbeth’s musical choices (played by a live band and sung entirely by the cast) felt like they payed homage to the rad moments already inherent in the play.  One excellent example came in the second act, when Banquo rode into the woods to be murdered.  The lights went out and the whole cast stood, holding flashlights under their chins and sang “Riders on the Storm” by the Doors.  As they finished, Banquo came in and, in a confusion of flashlights, was slain.  

The music also supplied surprisingly heartfelt moments:  In the original play, after King Duncan is murdered, the scene switches to a night guard who makes a few jokes with his mates before the body is discovered.  In Rockbeth, the guard came out to sing Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan before the rest of the scene played.  While the lyrics of the song were tailored to suit the guard’s character, the presence of such a beautiful classic almost felt like a eulogy to the yet undiscovered dead King as his spirit flew away to knock on heaven’s door.

The cast had the voices, more or less, to carry the rock hits they chose.  Several singers stood out, particularly Lady Macbeth, and everyone sang with the chutzpah and confidence that was the show’s trademark.  The instrumentalists were flawless.  The acting was a bit rougher than the singing, however. Rockbeth gave voice to a very young cast and I could sense some the self-consciousness that marks most student theatre.  However the production design–the bold Scottish Goth (Scoth?) look, the ballsy music, and that fantastic electric guitar did much to counteract that. In addition, most of the actors didn’t explore the nuance and dynamism that exists in the arcs of Shakespeare’s greatest characters.

I would love to see this cast take this play further, grow in their craft and roles a little bit, and explore more of the bottomless Bard’s prose.  As these young actors grow and become more comfortable saying  Shakespeare’s words and  inhabiting Shakespeare’s characters, this show could very easily become a big deal.  It certainly was fresh and gutsy enough to become a real hit.  And whatever the case, with it’s Cool Britannia music and it’s grunge, tartan style, it certainly put the ‘Scottish’ back into the “Scottish play”.

Recommended Drink: Whiskey. Jack Daniels. Make yourself feel like a king.

Performance of Rockbeth have now concluded at EdFringe 2023.

Miriam Trujillo

Miriam is a writer, opera singer, and arts writer living on top of the world in Nome, Alaska. She loves all of the arts but has a special place in her heart for the written word and anything that makes her ugly cry. She writes because she believes that art helps heal the human spirit and inspires people to reach for their full potential. She stans the Fringe for giving voice to diverse, non-establishment artists and can't wait to help make those voices heard!

Festivals: EdFringe (2023)
Pronouns: She/Her