Tag Archives: Briony O’Callaghan

The Tragedy of Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth


Southwark Playhouse

THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH at Southwark Playhouse


The Tragedy of Macbeth

“It is a whirlwind, whirligig production.”


You wander into the space at Southwark Playhouse at your peril, like an outsider may unwittingly stray through the gates of Bedlam. Flabbergast Theatre’s take on ‘The Scottish Play’ eschews Jacobean pomp, placing us somewhere in an uncertain dusty battlefield. A prolonged pre-show has the company writhing demonically, not yet fully formed. Caked in clay they are yet to be moulded into their characters. It is bestial and raw. With fractured moans and tics, elastic limbs and fits they writhe insect-like. Repetitive. Like nomadic animals in captivity – indicative of the madness into which we are soon to be plunged. “’Tis time, ‘tis time”. It doesn’t take us long at all to be swamped in their madness. We are already there. It is primitive, tribal. A mix of middle earth, pre-history, Norse warmongering, druid dystopia. A heightened apocalypse. Taiko rhythms deafen the senses, and the witches proclaim their prophecies in unison. The lunatics have taken over the asylum.

We wonder where we can go from here. The extraordinary opening cannot afford to dip, but has it got the energy to rise. Its sheer strength proves to be the one weakness that keeps the performance on the one level throughout. Thrilling as it is, it is relentless, leaving us wanting more of the stillness. More relief. But when those moments do come, they are truly striking, and the combined talents of this cohesive ensemble shine through. Attuned and in tune, the performers interact as one: their individual backgrounds adding rich flavours that “in the caldron boil and bake”. Physical theatre, puppetry, clown work, percussion, ritual, mythology, European folk music, and medieval chant are brought together under artistic director Henry Maynard’s steely direction.

Maynard is also tonight’s Macbeth (not always – some cast share roles and interchange on a nightly basis). A rich-voiced, booming presence not quite emasculated by Briony O’Callaghan’s Lady Macbeth. O’Callaghan, vampiric in her thirst for blood and status, gives a striking performance, both baiting and taming Maynard’s feral Macbeth. The supernatural nature of Shakespeare’s play is powerfully portrayed, often relying on just the performers’ bodies. Deep red wine symbolises the copious spilt blood. At times the wine and blood are as one, especially when Simon Gleave beautifully crackles as Banquo’s ghost, spitting and pouring claret-hued and venomous fear into the veins of Macbeth. Flabbergast are not afraid to go out on a limb, while remaining loyal to Shakespeare’s text. Comic relief comes courtesy of Dale Wylde’s Porter; a rubber-faced, New-Age Mr Bean at the gates of the castle.

Multi-rolling Daniel Chrisostomou comes into his own, particularly in Act Two as Macduff, plotting his revenge, while Kyll Thomas-Cole’s eye-catching Malcolm teases and tests his motives. One of the more riveting scenes, on a par with the stillness of the soliloquies. These moments, though, struggle to be remembered once the panoramic bombast subsides. The symmetry, synchronicity and physicality of the performance is undeniably exhilarating. It does not probe too deeply into the sexuality or the chemistry between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. In today’s climate one expects the subject matter inherent in the text – what does it mean to be a man, or a woman? – to be milked for all its worth and given the ‘correct’ treatment. This show, deliberately or otherwise, admiringly leaves it up to the audience, respecting intelligence by not spooning out popular judgement. The resonance stands on its own.

It is a whirlwind, whirligig production. One that captures the ethos of “Macbeth”, even if the story is one of the casualties, strewn among the body count. Yet it is a powerful, thrilling and quite extraordinary interpretation. A unique, sensory overload that can probably be heard across Southeast London, but should definitely be experienced up close.



Reviewed on 16th March 2023

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Michael Lynch



Previously reviewed at Southwark Playhouse:


Smoke | ★★ | February 2023
The Walworth Farce | ★★★ | February 2023
Hamlet | ★★★ | January 2023
Who’s Holiday! | ★★★ | December 2022
Doctor Faustus | ★★★★★ | September 2022
The Prince | ★★★ | September 2022
Tasting Notes | ★★ | July 2022
Evelyn | ★★★ | June 2022
The Lion | ★★★ | May 2022
Anyone Can Whistle | ★★★★ | April 2022

Click here to read all our latest reviews



Tristan Bates Theatre



Tristan Bates Theatre

Reviewed – 15th April 2018



“bristling with a rottweiler-level energy, but is matched by a tone of unfocused anger and bitterness”


Mortgage is a challenging piece of theatre – in every sense of the word. This devised piece from the minds of the renowned David Glass Ensemble and Created a Monster (with writing also credited to David Glass) is itching to provoke some deeply pressing conversations, while also being too frustrating in its design to fully wrangle with its own thesis. As such, it presents itself as something unpolished and messy, but despite this there is an urgency and forcefulness to the show that holds you in an unforgiving vice grip.

At this point in the review I’d normally provide a brief plot synopsis, but it’s difficult to know where to even start with Mortgage. The show initially consists of two doctors in drag (François Testory and Simon Gleave) attempting to treat the eponymous Mortgage (Briony O’Callaghan) through a series of vignettes incorporating various forms of movement, violence, and magic, tonally feeling like grotesque versions of Monty Python sketches. This then somewhat clunkily segues into a huge and unnecessary exposition dump as Mortgage explains her backstory, which jars with what came before, and slows the momentum to a crawl by placing the focus on what happened instead of what’s going to happen until finally, we end up in another sketch of sorts that seemingly tirades against actors, theatres, and audiences. There’s very little cohesion between these moments and it’s never quite clear why they’re being presented on stage to us.

But one can’t help but wonder – was that the point? When the creatives involved are so esteemed, when the action on stage is so visually striking, when the performances are so vocally and physically committed, it’s easy to ponder whether the disjointed nature of events is founded in an intentional desire for theatremakers to spoon-feed less to the audience, and for the audience to infer their own meanings from the art they consume. Perhaps there is actually an undercurrent of genius to the madness.

Even if there were admirable intentions behind Mortgage, though, the execution of them feels unsatisfying. It’s bristling with a rottweiler-level energy, but is matched by a tone of unfocused anger and bitterness – if David Glass and the company were trying to say something, it isn’t said with any clarity, and is instead lost behind a mire of perplexing theatrical choices. You’re never quite certain what Mortgage is, who it’s for, or why it’s been made, and yet it will still manage to keep you captivated for its runtime – it’s a case of style over substance, but the style is present in droves.

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Gavin Maunsell



Tristan Bates Theatre until 20th April


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Echoes | ★★★★★ | August 2018
Love Lab | ★★★★ | August 2018
Butterfly Lovers | ★★ | September 2018
The Problem With Fletcher Mott | ★★★★ | September 2018
Sundowning | ★★★★ | October 2018
Drowned or Saved? | ★★★★ | November 2018
Me & My Left Ball | ★★★★ | January 2019
Nuns | ★★★ | January 2019
Classified | ★★★½ | March 2019
Oranges & Ink | ★★ | March 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com