Thursday, 7 March 2019

REVIEW: Macbeth at the Watermill

Paul Hart, the artistic Director of the Watermill and Director of this production together with Movement Director Tom Jackson Greaves are establishing a very interesting style of Ensemble cast productions having previously collaborated on Twelfth Night, Teddy, Sweet Charity and The Borrowers for the company. They have now turned their attention to Macbeth and set it in modern army dress and a brick built hotel designed by Katie Lias which turns the intimate theatre into the castle settings for the play. It creates a fresh modern feel which with rock/pop music underscoring many scenes makes it easily accessible and I think very appealing to a younger audience.

They pack the production with lots of clever ideas with some very good use of projection on the rear wall, a bellboy at the centre of the action curiously offering polo mints, and a chorus of sexily dressed temptresses. When the talk is of "black and deep desires", the cast burst into song with the Rolling Stones Paint it Black. After Macbeth has had Banquo killed, they sing L-O-V-E by Gregory Porter while performing a bizarre dance. And when Macbeth is killed they sing Johnny Cash's Hurt. When Macbeth speaks the line "is that a dagger I see before me" the hallucination is two chorus with two knives. The directorial choices are interesting but ultimately distracting from Shakespeare's words and in some ways overwhelm the efforts of the cast. 

The cast of ten gender blind actors (5 men and 5 women) play 12 named parts of the original 30 plus speaking parts of the play. Malcolm (Victoria Blunt), Banquo (Lillie Flynn) and the Porter (Eva Feiler) are played as female but the the lines of the three witches or weird sisters become a general chorus. In addition many are required to play instruments as well on stage and again the arrival of cast on stage with guitars becomes a distraction rather than enhancing the action. 

Billy Postlethwaite plays Macbeth and engages the audience well with his eyes, so we feel he is on the edge of madness driven by his desire for power. Emma McDonald as Lady Macbeth however does not seem to be his scheming accomplice egging him on but rather a loving observer of his actions. When Duncan (Max Runham) arrives at the hotel he sings House of the rising sun and when he murdered in his bed by Macbeth he is surrounded by four lap dancers. The production moves slickly from scene to scene as the cast move the props and the excellent lighting by Tom White adds to atmosphere with subtle changes. The hotel sign flickers between HEL and OT as the tension rises underlined by the guitar and drum music and some of it is over the top.

Inevitably any production of Macbeth has to stand up to comparison to versions
that have gone before. Paul Hart's vision is certainly more engaging and entertaining that the NT version on the vast Olivier stage last year but Shakespeare's words have never in my experience been better presented than in Kenneth Branagh's 2013 Manchester International Festival production in an equally intimate venue. Somehow in the Watermill the visual and musical delight of Hart's presentation means you find yourself tuning out of the Bard's words rather that tuning into their poetic rhythms. However this should not detract from the fine effort by the production team and cast in staging Macbeth in such a fresh exciting and modern way.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Stalls row C | Price of Ticket:£26
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