“Good writing and good theatre allow issues to be explored without spoon-feeding ideas”
In the year ending March 2019, 5,738 referrals were made to the UK’s anti-radicalisation programme, Prevent. The most common source of referrals was Education and one in ten were deemed worthy of further action through the de-radicalisation programme known as Channel. Finborough Theatre’s writer on attachment, Joe Marsh explores bias, community and the education system in Althea Theatre’s production of The Glass Will Shatter at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham.
Told through a series of flashbacks, the play follows Rebecca (Josephine Arden), a middle-class, white, neurotic and former teacher as she attempts to overcome her recurring nightmares by addressing their source: a confrontation she had had with former pupil Amina (Naima Swaleh)- a second-generation Somali and aspiring rapper. Between the two sits the steadying presence of Jamilah (Alma Eno), now school principal, who has agreed to meet with Rebecca for a catch-up.
Although it gets off to a rocky start; seemingly due to an inherent problem with the setup – a series of stilted conversations in a coffee shop between the emotionally closed Rebecca and Jamilah, who haven’t met for years – “Are you sure you don’t want a coffee?”. Marsh has nonetheless written a beautiful and witty play that highlights the tragic combination of systematised programmes such as Prevent and the inherent bias and insecurities of the individuals encouraged to enact them.
Once properly underway, Director Lilac Yosiphon builds the pace cycling through the series of flashbacks with swift changes to the moveable set (Rana Fadavi) punctuated by short movement sequences. All of which was supplemented by Will Monks’ lighting design which employed striking laser projections through heavy stage smoke. The large glass window (that one feels must shatter, Chekovesque) at times captured and contained all of that smoke in a way reminiscent of the design for Debbie Tucker Green’s Ear for Eye.
Naima Swaleh provides an especially watchable performance as Amina; playing the confident street-kid foil to Rebecca’s neuroticism. Jamilah completed the triumvirate as the wise head between the two and showing that emotional intelligence counts for much in education, as it does in life. All of which builds to a satisfying and emotional denouement when Rebecca finally gets face to face with her (now long-since graduated) tormentor.
Good writing and good theatre allow issues to be explored without spoon-feeding ideas. I left the theatre with a very clear set of conclusions (both tragic and self-confronting) to the problems raised. However, such is the complexity and at times a nebulous subject, it’s entirely possible for another viewer to leave holding a different set of sympathies. That, above all, is much to the production’s credit.
“a gritty, unfurling tragedy filled with constant movement and action”
Scotland’s war-torn landscapes were Shakespeare’s original setting for Macbeth, providing an air of bleakness fitting to a story about a thane who kills his king. Stepping forward in time, this production finds a new current of bleakness to build upon, with dull building facades and army fatigues – all tacked over with a sheen of glitz and glamour, such as the sleek tux and red dress Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wear to crow over their newly-won court. Overall, the Watermill Theatre’s production is a worthy version of the tale, thick and heavy with atmosphere.
The play opens with war, as Billy Postlethwaite’s moody Macbeth greets not the usual ethereal witches, but looming soldiers fresh from the battlefield, who violently prophecise that he shall be king. But the dull underbelly of war is always there throughout the play, even in later scenes of revelry. When triumphant Macbeth and Banquo (Robyn Sinclair) return from war to Lady Macbeth (Emma McDonald), it follows them in the form of ominous throbbing guitar chords and solemn drumbeats. Growing darker throughout the play, especially after the couple murder their king Duncan (a warm-hearted portrayal by Jamie Satterthwaite), these musical touches serve to accentuate the mental anguish of our protagonist and other troubled characters.
The whole play is moody – an aesthetic that draws you in and can be credited in large part to the music and scenery. The musical elements (directed by Maimuna Memon and performed by the company) are an impressive feat; they start off hesitantly but by the end become so omnipresent that you begin to wonder how the play would have functioned without them. Featuring classics such as The Rolling Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’, the song choices are fitting throughout, involving minimal singing and working best as background ambience.
Clever scenery and set design (Katie Lias) casts an intentional shadow over the proceedings. Perhaps the neon lights over Macbeth’s reimagined hotel residence fading to read just ‘hel’ is a little on the nose, but the greying pockmarked building that dominates the stage acts as a nice metaphor for Macbeth’s initial feelings of impenetrability. Lighting (Tom White) is also deployed well against the monochrome backdrop to show blood, battle, and the bright trees of Birnam wood.
While the actors in some cases take a little while to warm up to their roles, the play does offer some new interpretations of familiar characters. Postlethwaite’s Macbeth is reminiscent of a troubled warrior from fantasy media, and while Mcdonald’s Lady Macbeth comes across a little overbearingly posh at the start, she grows to become more developed. Lucy Keirl also does well with the relatively minor role of the reoccurring hotel porter. All round, the performances from the rest of the company (Molly Chesworth, Peter Mooney, Lauryn Redding, Tom Sowinski, and Mike Slader) are generally good and grow with the thickening atmosphere.
Pairing brooding music with the already dark subject-matter, director Paul Hart has created a gritty, unfurling tragedy filled with constant movement and action (credit also to movement designer Tom Jackson Greaves). Watching this adaptation of Macbeth promises to be a dramatic evening indeed.