“Postlethwaite commands as Macbeth. He is every inch the rugged soldier and he compellingly takes us through the light and shade of Macbeth’s personality”
The Watermill Theatre in Bagnor near Newbury is without doubt one of the most beautifully located theatres that there is. The auditorium seats just 200 people and the fixtures of a once working mill make it utterly charming and unique. It prides itself on its in-house productions providing an eclectic mix of classic and contemporary pieces.
Macbeth has been a very present work in the last year, with both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre giving us updated productions. Traditionally, Macbeth, a brave Scottish General, is visited by a trio of witches who prophesise that he will become King of Scotland. His ambition, and that of his wife, spurs him to murder King Duncan and take the throne. A continuity of control and ruthless violence create their eventual demise as they are consumed by guilt and paranoia.
Artistic Director, Paul Hart has tried to bring some original elements to this production. Sometimes it works and sometimes it falls short. The set (Katie Lias) is simple and relies heavily on lighting to create the necessary tone of the piece. Lighting Designer Tom White succeeds to an extent. Duncan’s murder is one of the most compelling moments in the production and this is largely down to the staging and lighting which create a sinister and shocking scene. It also worked very well at the close as we saw the blood falling down the wall as it fell from Malcom’s crown. However, throughout the rest of the production it was less effective and uninteresting.
Billy Postlethwaite commands as Macbeth. He is every inch the rugged soldier and he compellingly takes us through the light and shade of Macbeth’s personality during the monologues and soliloquies. Lillie Flynn as Banquo is excellent although I was confused as to the relevance of the gender swapping of the character as it did not bring anything to the production. Emma McDonald as Lady Macbeth is rightly, unlikable and I felt no sympathy for the character. Her diction seemed over enunciated and the presentation felt forced. Eva Feiler as the Porter confused me and the performance was never quite humorous or creepy enough. The idea of this character as a bell hop could have been a genius one but it never reached its potential. The exclusion of the Wyrd Sisters was also a baffling choice.
The Watermill has been using the musical element of their productions as an integral part of their plays for some time. I have seen it work in previous productions to great effect but with Macbeth it seemed formulaic though the choreography by Movement Director, Tom Jackson Greaves was pleasant and effective. Shakespeare works best when kept fresh and relevant and sadly this production did not quite manage it.
“plays actively on the comic element with quick-witted interaction and lively, farcical staging”
Bursting with ideas and inspiration, Exploding Whale’s retailored model of Shakespeare’s most frequently performed comedy reveals a wealth of new talent. Hidden beneath Katzenjammers’ Bierkeller, Katzpace is an interestingly-located, if somewhat incommodious studio space and home to this vibrant young theatre company.
The modern corporate setting of this adaptation is an excellent choice as a venue for social intrigues as well as a vehicle for the shifting of traditional gender roles. In this version, Don Juan is a female executive and several minor characters have become women in the workplace. Director, Ellie Morris, creates beautifully contrasting moods while the story unfolds. As they arrive for work, each personality is immediately established and the spirited pace allows for an atmosphere of bustling office banter. However, it is never a mistake to take time over establishing complicated backstories and plots; even for those familiar with the play, the energy of the opening rushes through the initial set up as we learn the latest line-up. The first half plays actively on the comic element with quick-witted interaction and lively, farcical staging, though sometimes the quality becomes patchy and we lose the tension and conviction of the characters. In the second, the drama comes together and we experience an unusually powerful sense of tragic relief, sobering the mood for a dose of reality.
In this redesigned cast, the two central couples find a perfect blend of tone and attitude which place them in the present day. The nonchalant pretence of Talia Pick’s Beatrice complements Gregory Birks’ carefree, comic front as Benedick, breaking eventually in a touchingly affectionate scene. Ava Pickett as Hero and in particular, Julian Bailey-Jones as Claudio, grow with passion from starry-eyed young lovers, experiencing the powerful feelings of betrayal, anger and grief. Octavia Gilmore portrays a manipulating Don Juan and James Irving as Hero’s father, Leonato, asserts himself in the second half. There is an enjoyably quirky Dogberry from Charlotte Vassell, but many of the secondary roles are changed or omitted and the distinction and balance between their updated versions is not always clear.
A room below a beer cellar is certainly a change from one above a pub but it has its practical drawbacks. Visibility is sometimes obscured by a couple of pillars and made uncomfortable by the glaring, low spot lights. Technical aspects aside, Exploding Whale’s production captures the fundamental essence of these two couples, exploring the timelessness of their relationships as well as putting more women on the stage. The clever, contemporary setting and details, dynamic direction and wonderful acting make this a ‘Much Ado’ which spans our emotions and entertains at the same time.