Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
Reviewed – 11th February 2020
“succeeds in bringing the darkness of Macbeth to life through inspired direction, artful effects and compelling acting”
In an arresting version of his shortest, bloodiest tragedy, Shakespeare tells of unbridled ambition and the ensuing punishment in a tale of brutality, guilt, innocence and fate. Returning home from battle, Macbeth and fellow general, Banquo, come across three witches, whose supernatural element denotes temptation, and they foretell that Macbeth will become king. When Lady Macbeth hears the news, she persuades her husband to quicken things along by killing King Duncan. Afterwards, Macbeth becomes desperate with fear of losing the crown and gets rid of everyone who he thinks stands in his way, until nobleman Macduff gets his revenge. In contrast, Lady Macbeth is haunted by guilt, day and night, and eventually kills herself. The narrative has relevance today with its timeless themes and gives the central couple a modern slant through Lady Macbeth’s calculating dominance in their relationship – an unusual depiction of a wife for that time.
Douglas Rintoul’s mindful direction allows the play to be expressed by Shakespeare’s words which, in turn, enable the characters to develop. His subtle touches of imaginative staging, for example the silhouetted battles and murders, lessen the distraction from the psychological intensity and we are gripped by the horror of human nature. The technical effects enhance both the storyline and the atmosphere. A red laser shines across the bare stage, reminding us of the blood spilt for power. The lighting by Daniella Beattie illuminates the scenes with the glow of the northern landscape and the bleakness inside the castle. Paul Falconer’s incidental music and sound punctuates the action, adding clarity and mood to the plot, and the costumes (Chrissy Maddison) have an ageless simplicity, the earthy browns, blacks and greys of the men against the soft heather colours of the women.
Many of the cast play two or three parts, switching convincingly between them. The witches (Connie Walker, Danielle Kassaraté and Colette McNulty) are wild and mischievous with their sinister prophecies, while Tilda Wickham’s Malcolm verges on overly placid, especially when trying to pretend to be more tyrannous than Macbeth. Phoebe Sparrow as Lady Macbeth captures some poignant moments, notably the sleepwalking scene, but the hold she has on her husband appears as bullying rather than deep coercive malevolence and she seems to lose control quickly. Outstanding are Paul Tinto and Ewan Somers as Macbeth and Macduff. As the revengeful hero, Somer’s Macduff is played throughout with all his human traits intact, particularly when he learns of his slain family. Tinto, from brave warrior becomes the dominated spouse at home and then spirals into savage ruthlessness. Even his ‘To-morrow, and to-morrow…’ speech is said with a callous indifference for life.
A dramatically impressive production, it succeeds in bringing the darkness of Macbeth to life through inspired direction, artful effects and compelling acting, and portends another great year for Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, The Stage Awards ‘London Theatre of the Year 2020’.
Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington
Photography by Mark Sepple
Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch until 29th February
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 22nd August 2019
“there are several original touches that bring a freshness of interpretation to Antic Disposition’s take on the Scottish Play”
Macbeth is about many things, but it begins and ends with a battle. Antic Disposition has chosen a particularly appropriate, though challenging, setting for their latest production of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.The Temple Church is an ancient building, long connected with warriors, from the Templars of the Crusades who gave the church its name, to the veterans of both world wars. The long, narrow, bare boards stage, designed traverse style by John Risebero stretches the length of the central aisle, with lighting hung at either end. It is a powerful space, and the actors use it well, but from the audience’s perspective, it is problematic. Firstly, because observing the action is rather like being at a tennis match, where one’s head whips back and forth to follow the players, and secondly, because the church, like all churches of this period, was designed to echo. This works well for the polyphonic sacred music of the twelfth century, but for the interactions between Macbeth’s dramatic characters, in highly complex language, often exchanged in the heat of battle — not so much. It is a problem that this production never quite overcomes, despite the ingenious staging.
That said, there are several original touches that bring a freshness of interpretation to Antic Disposition’s take on the Scottish Play. For example, director Ben Horslen makes the witches an essential part of the whole show by using them as servants as well. This means they are nearly always present on stage in some capacity, and often working their magic while going about domestic tasks. This makes intuitive sense, and avoids the hackneyed stereotypes of grizzled old women sitting in isolation on blasted heaths. By contrast, the witches in this production (portrayed by Robyn Holdaway, Bryony Tebbutt and Louise Templeton) are active and versatile — a combination that adds to their importance in Macbeth’s story. Their continued presence emphasises their power, and adds significance to the way in which they catch the ambitious Thane of Glamis in their diabolical traps. The Victorian themed costume designs of Hanna Wilkinson make the witches nicely unobtrusive in their servant roles as well.
The leading roles are competently managed with stand out performances by Nathan Hamilton as Malcolm (also doubling as a Murderer) and Peter Collis as Banquo (also doubling as the Doctor). Harry Anton, as Macbeth, partly solves the problem of the echoing Temple Church by lowering his voice and speaking more slowly and with great clarity. This technique works to great advantage with the soliloquies. He is partnered by Helen Millar as Lady Macbeth, who does her best with the most challenging role in this play, but this is a somewhat hesitant performance that fails to connect with the ruthless force that must drive Macbeth to murder. The Victorian theme of the costumes works less well for the leading characters, in particular during the fight scenes. The choice of daggers rather than swords makes the final confrontation of Macbeth and Macduff, for example, a more muted affair. But by the final scenes, the deepening gloom of the evening skies outside the Temple Church add nicely to the flickering candlelight within the church. It is a fittingly crepuscular conclusion to Antic Disposition’s production of Macbeth.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Scott Rylander
Temple Church until 7th September
Previously reviewed by Dominica Plummer: