“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’.
“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.