Folk horror elements in Mab’s ‘Macbeth’ question who among us is uncanny

Evan Fields as Macbeth in the Queen Mab Players' folk horror thriller take on "Macbeth," opening April 12 at  Limelight Theatre.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Lyssa Hoganson

Credit: Photo courtesy of Lyssa Hoganson

Evan Fields as Macbeth in the Queen Mab Players' folk horror thriller take on "Macbeth," opening April 12 at Limelight Theatre.

This story was originally published by ArtsATL.

The Queen Mab Players are a relatively new company, having established themselves in 2020 under the banner RoleCall Theatre before striking out on their own. Their upcoming production of ”Macbeth,” running April 12-21 at Limelight Theatre, whittles down Shakespeare’s classic tale of betrayal, power and paranoia into a 90-minute folk horror thriller.

In doing more truncated and experimental productions, the Queen Mab Players fashion themselves a less traditional counterpart to the Shakespeare Tavern.

“I think that traditional productions of Shakespeare shows are hugely important, but we already have a great theater in Atlanta that does that,” said director Lyssa Hoganson. “We wouldn’t be necessary or really even welcome on the theater scene if we were just going to do the exact same thing that another theater company does.”

Part of the company’s approach is using smaller casts of five to seven actors, necessitating a fair amount of doubling. Excluding Macbeth, every actor in this production plays at least three other roles. A particularly interesting choice has each actor also at some point playing a witch, augmenting Macbeth’s sense of paranoia.

The black box of the Limelight Theatre make performances from Al’Rasyah Fairley (center), Norman Murphy and Davis McDaniel as witches seem even eerier.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Lyssa Hoganson

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Credit: Photo courtesy of Lyssa Hoganson

“There are three witches in each scene, but they’re all played by a different combination of the rest of the ensemble to create this sense that Macbeth can’t really trust anyone, and that the witches are these all-powerful beings who can inhabit any figure that they choose to,” Hoganson said.

A self-professed horror fan, Hoganson drew inspiration from folk horror for her staging of the play. “One of our big touchstones is folk horror and the aesthetics of it. I love the emphasis on humanity and ourselves being a source of horror.”

As a subgenre of horror, folk horror draws on elements of folklore. Common motifs include isolation, superstition, paganism and the “dark” sides of nature, usually brought together in a rural setting. While the genre was pioneered in the 1960s and ‘70s, the 2019 film “Midsommar” brought a revitalization.

One notable aspect of folk horror shared with “Macbeth” is that while there is usually some supernatural element, the focus of the story is on the beliefs and actions of people as they relate to the supernatural. The witches play an important role in the plot of “Macbeth,” but the bulk of the story is about Macbeth’s actions. Thus the witches become a manifestation of Macbeth’s inner conflict.

“There is so much to explore in this idea that permeates folk horror,” Hoganson said. “Who is the real horror? Is it us, or is it something beyond? Is it natural or is it supernatural — or is it humanity itself?”

Having the actors alternate the roles of the witches makes Macbeth’s fears ambient and inescapable. The witches are not just some mysterious individuals living at the edge of the forest — they are Lady Macbeth; they are Banquo; they are Macduff; and they are Duncan. The malignant forces taunting him could be hiding anywhere. This choice is designed to blur the lines between the natural and supernatural, tying the supernatural to Macbeth’s own fracturing psyche.

Another tenet of folk horror is the relationship between individuals and their environment. The genre is meant to mimic the feel of folktales told around a campfire, and thus an immersive element is required to create the appropriate atmosphere.

Al’Rasyah Fairley examines her bloodied hands as Lady Macbeth.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Lyssa Hoganson

icon to expand image

Credit: Photo courtesy of Lyssa Hoganson

This is where the dimensions of the Limelight Theatre come in handy. The small black box theatre brings a sense of intimacy to the performance. The play is also performed in thrust, meaning that the audience is positioned on either side of the stage, augmenting the sense that they are in the forests of Dunsinane with the characters.

Sounds are also employed to achieve the mood. Hoganson opted to utilize practical sound effects, such as foley whistles, to create the calls of birds and metal sheets to emulate thunderclaps. And perhaps the most interesting sonic choice is the use of war drums layered over several sequences of the production, providing a sense of momentum leading up to the climax.

Hoganson’s hope is that the immediacy and visceral quality of sound will imbue the play with tense ambience.

“[The effects] help create an immersive experience because you can tell when something is played on a speaker versus when something is happening with you in the space,” she said.

Such a minimalist approach may not align with every play in Shakespeare’s catalog but is well-suited to a play like “Macbeth,” especially when combined with Hoganson’s horror sensibilities. For those who appreciate unusual adaptations and the horror genre, this staging of “Macbeth” is promising.



The Queen Mab Players perform April 12-21 at Limelight Theatre, 349 Decatur St. SE, Atlanta. 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 7:30 Sunday, April 21. $20 in advance; $25 day of show, plus fees, available at


Luke Evans is an Atlanta-based writer, critic and dramaturg. He covers theater for ArtsATL and Broadway World Atlanta and has worked with theaters such as the Alliance, Actor’s Express, Out Front Theatre and Woodstock Arts. He’s a graduate of Oglethorpe University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and the University of Houston, where he earned his master’s.

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Credit: ArtsATL


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