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 – 11th December 2019
“an incredibly rich and vibrant affair that will fill you with a sense of well-being while making you laugh again and again”
Every year Andrew Pollard brings his remarkable pantomime to Greenwich Theatre, and every year it surprises and delights. The stories may change, but the essence remains the same – a hilarious and audacious roller-coaster of a show. Sleeping Beauty is another great victory for this supremely talented writer, actor and director.
Forget the usual panto formula. While Pollard clearly loves the genre and pays homage to its key elements – not least, by embodying the archetypal Dame – his take on the form is refreshingly different and he makes Sleeping Beauty work on multiple levels. For children, it’s excitingly full of colour, adventure and impressive pyrotechnic effects, with appealing interactive moments – such as being handed magic moon rocks and urged to throw them at the stage. For adults, it’s a feast of cheeky wit with a very funny script that weaves in local and topical references (Plumstead, Blackheath, Nigel Farage, Prince Andrew) alongside plenty of daft innuendo. It’s a treat to watch the actors trying to make each other laugh, going off-piste and breaking the fourth wall.
The scenes are interspersed with – and often built around – wonderful pop music. There are adaptations of songs by The Beatles, Chic, Boney M and The Proclaimers, among others, played live and loud by the small in-house band led by Musical Director ‘Uncle’ Steve Markwick.
The story veers wildly away from the classic fairytale, but just about retains enough of the key elements to justify the title. Ewan and Anastasia, the young couple at the centre of the plot, are confidently played by Regan Burke and Esme Bacalla-Hayes. Theirs is not a typical boy-meets-girl situation. With the help of a kindly fairy, Ewan finds himself transported from the London of 1969 to the Russia of 1869. Masquerading as ‘Major Thomas’ – you can see the David Bowie connection a mile off, and sure enough they include ‘Space Oddity’ as one of the songs – he falls in love with the daughter of Tsar Ivan the Slightly Irritable. But Anastasia is bewitched and left to sleep for 100 years by the evil villain Rasputin. The ‘mad monk’ is wonderfully brought to life by the ultra-charismatic Anthony Spargo, who knows exactly how to get the audience hissing at him and his dastardly plans.
Quickly dispensing with familiar Sleeping Beauty motifs, the narrative races off into a gloriously ridiculous saga about travelling through time and space, plus a thread about Greenwich Theatre itself as way of celebrating its 50th anniversary. Indeed, Ewan is based on Ewan Hooper, a real-life local actor who saved the theatre from demolition in the 1960s.
One of the highlights of each annual pantomime is the spectacle of Andrew Pollard’s outlandish costumes, which defy gravity and belief, so special credit must go to the team of wardrobe designers. Utterly inspired visuals in which adults are turned into babies also support several moments of comedy that go beyond merely funny or clever to approach a sort of surreal high art.
Only one criticism: at times the music is too loud and drowns out the dialogue. It’s not the sort of show in which you need to hear every word, but it is a shame that a few of the jokes are lost for this reason.
That point aside, this is an incredibly rich and vibrant affair that will fill you with a sense of well-being while making you laugh again and again.
Reviewed by Stephen Fall
Photography by Robert Day
Greenwich Theatre until 12 January
Previously reviewed at this venue: