“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’.
The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs’ award winning children’s book, is brought to the stage by composer Howard Blake, director Bill Alexander and choreographer Robert North for its annual visit at the Peacock Theatre in London’s West End. It’s a perennial favourite among children and their parents “at the most magical time of the year,” and it’s easy to see why. Blake’s music, including the hit song “Walking in the Air” (sung by Aled Jones), plus North’s choreography—with Alexander’s direction tying it all together—makes The Snowman one of those rare shows that can hold the attention of the primary school set and their younger siblings. It also helps that this show, like the book, has no words. The Birmingham Repertory Theatre’s production of The Snowman is a visual feast for young and old eyes alike.
That said, this production has a rather different look from the drawings in the book, although designer Ruari Murchison finds ways to portray the eponymous hero and the young boy who creates and befriends him that are recognisable enough. And it’s hard to find fault with the design for the myriad of other creatures not in the book, who come to join the Snowman and his friends on stage. The never ending array of toys, fruit, and adorable animals that come to life and dance in their unwieldy costumes is something the child in all of us can appreciate. The talented dancers, led by dance captain Antony Edwards, bring off the difficult combination of comedy and grace in their performances, to the delight of their young audience. The set uses the space at the Peacock cleverly and efficiently, given that a lot of room has to be created for the dancers (and for flying the Snowman and the Boy). The small but effective band, under the musical direction of Costas Fotopoulos, creates a lively sound that is loud enough to overcome the constant murmuring of adults and kids commenting on the action, but not so loud that an audience with sensitive ears could object.
The elements of the story in The Snowman are familiar to anyone who loves folk tales. It has some things in common with The Nutcracker, which may be the reason it was adapted into a seasonal show. But The Snowman is a much simpler tale—perfectly designed for a younger audience that may not be quite ready for the complexities of Clara and her world in The Nutcracker. In short, Boy creates a Magical Snowman which he then introduces to the commonplace items of his world, such as clothing, toys, and food. But through the Snowman’s magic these items also become magical, and the boy’s world is transformed, culminating in a fantastic flight to the Snowman’s world where the roles are reversed. Now it is the Boy who becomes the magical figure transforming the world of the Snowmen and their friends. Add in the rescue of the Snow Princess from the evil Jack Frost, and all is ready for a happy celebration before the Boy returns home. Was his journey just a dream? But he still has the scarf that Father Christmas gave him, so of course it must be true.
If there is one criticism to be made of this show, it is that it runs a hundred minutes with an interval. That is a long time for very young children to manage, and there were predictable meltdowns towards the end of the second half. But for the most part, the audience was entranced by the music and dancing, and loved opportunities for waving at the Snowman and the Boy as they flew across the stage. So if panto is not your thing, and you are searching for a seasonal substitute to take your young friends and family to, why not introduce them to The Snowman?