Monday, 10 April 2017

REVIEW: Macbeth at the Jack Studio Theatre

A ten-minute stroll from Honor Oak Park station, the Jack Studio Theatre is a hidden gem in the south of leafy Brockley. Tucked in at the back of the Brockley Jack Pub, the spacious 50-seat venue offers an excellent programme of new writing and classic plays at very affordable prices. Also, thanks to its welcoming staff and warm environment, it's a great place to mingle, where I felt at home from my first visit. 

For this production of Shakespeare's Macbeth, the AC Group and director Thomas Attwood offer a fresh and original combination of high technical values and strong acting that make the play feel engaging and genuinely heartfelt. The several roles are covered by a close-knit cast of eight, which appear entirely committed to the script. Attwood has overseen every detail of this two-hour long tragedy and, thanks to his thorough direction, every line takes shape through the voice and the smallest gestures of the performers. Relying heavily on non-verbal language, in his hands Macbeth acquires a creeping psychological resonance and even the presence of blood is not meant as a shock-factor and is limited to its essential role within the play.

Reuben Speed’s design is understated and tasteful. Modern trendy outfits are combined with stylish haircuts and quirky details. Lady Macbeth's asymmetric bob and black nail varnish is matched by her minimal and androgynous clothes, the three witches are wearing black leggings and braces on white tops and Macbeth’s regal attire becomes a kaki cardigan on a casual top. Some gauze curtains shape the set and, with some artificial haze, help to create the initial foggy atmosphere. A well-devised kabuki drop is a nice surprising touch after the opening scene.

Sound designer Jack Barton adds a modern twist with occasional inserts of electronic music, which are enacted by the ensemble and graciously choreographed by movement director Roman Berry. Composer Elliot Clay's original score brings intensity to the most dramatic moments, with the performers playing drums, violins, a guitar, a flute and a saxophone live on stage.

With his skinny build and untamed hair, William Ross-Fawcett is perhaps an
unusual casting for Macbeth but his delivery of the role is astounding. He's vicious, unstable and effortlessly transports us in the deepest folds of his folly and bloodthirst. Amelia Clay, who plays his ruthless wife, offers him valid support and nails the depiction of her degrading sanity. Attwood’s decision to preserve their Scottish accent is appropriate and coherent with a classical piece which aims to recreate in every possible way a familiar environment for modern audiences. Nell Hardy deserves a special mention for her crucial role as Macduff and one of the witches, and her energetic presence on stage.

Despite the limited budget and the simple features, this AC Group production of Macbeth deserves my full stars for the choice of the venue and the imaginative but faithful revival of a masterpiece that is often too inaccessible for an ordinary theatregoer. 

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★★★★
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