Tag Archives: Flabbergast Theatre

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


The Swell Mob

The Swell Mob

COLAB Factory

The Swell Mob

The Swell Mob

COLAB Factory

Reviewed – 9th May 2019



“Although there is clear potential to this show, it needs some improvement before it really hits the mark”


As we stepped into COLAB Factory we were plunged into the mid 19th century, and cast and crew of The Swell Mob urged us to the bar. The ensemble cast’s conviction to their varied and fascinating parts is one of the main strengths of this production. Detailed and rich characters occupy nooks and crannies and wander around, interacting with the audience and telling their stories of how they came to be in the power of the mysterious Master who rules this peculiar place. Large portions of the show are improvised conversations with these characters, although there are moments of more cohesive scripting including an impressively choreographed boxing match.

Flabbergast Theatre’s aesthetic style of the show is in-depth and really does put the ‘immersive’ into ‘immersive theatre’. From the detailed costumes to the even more detailed set, with rooms full of papers and objects to be explored, each audience member gets a different experience depending on where they go and what they do. Who you talk to also makes a big difference, and the cast’s quick thinking and responses to the most unexpected input is to be commended.

Unfortunately the plot of The Swell Mob falls flat, due to its failure to take care of its audience. A tricky element of any immersive theatre in which audience members can wander free is in laying out the rules of the performance in such a way that we can still understand a story from what we have discovered. In this performance the rules were unclear; we were given a bag of coins on entry, but with no sense of how spending them might limit our options later in the show. Even just a more thorough introduction would have been an easy fix, but without it we were left unsure how exactly to proceed.

Crowding is also an issue. In some ways it felt there were not enough actors for audience and several times I came across others at a loss for what to do. Whilst it may be fun to join forces and engage with completely new people, seeking out the entertainment of The Swell Mob is hard, and not always rewarding, work. Although there is clear potential to this show, it needs some improvement before it really hits the mark.

Reviewed by Katy Owen

Photography by Jordan Chandler


The Swell Mob

COLAB Factory until 25th August


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Hidden Figures: WW2 | ★★★★★ | March 2018
For King & Country | ★★★★ | April 2018
Illicit Secrets: Bletchley | ★★★★ | August 2018


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