Friday, 23 August 2019

REVIEW: Macbeth at the Temple Church

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival Clive Anderson in his show "Macbeth and Me" asserted that it was the greatest of all Shakespeare's plays in terms of language and plot. The problem with that is that it is frequently done by professional companies and that inevitably invites comparison. Kenneth Branagh's traverse production in the Manchester International Festival a few years ago is my benchmark and this exciting production by Antic Disposition in the glorious setting of Temple Church matches up very well.

However it is the women who steal the show. The three "weird sisters" presence is elevated and when they are absent you miss them. Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero double them up as servants in the Macbeth household and they frequently appear heads cast down, hands twisted as if in mid spell and observe, almost haunt, the action. When Duncan is murdered they collect the bloodied bed sheets and are later seen washing them in the famous " toil and trouble" scene . It is brilliant and you have a real sense of the Macbeth's being under some dreadful curse from the three witches (Louise Templeton, Bryony Tebbutt and Robyn Holdaway). They act in unison and magically lift a table as they cast their spells.

Lady Macbeth, Helen Millar, is magnificent dressed in a subdued black Victorian gown in Act 1 and a stunning red gown in Act 2. You feel her torment over the child she lost and her passion for her husband and brings a clarity to her motives for murder. Even when not speaking she acts with intensity, her piercing blue eyes reacting to others words and actions in a spell binding performance. 

Macbeth, Harry Anton, tries to asserts himself in the midst of these dominant women but it feels a downward destructive path as he fulfils their prophecy. His lank long hair becomes a metaphor for his state of mind, only neat and tidy as he greets Duncan at his home and flailing wildly as he struggles with his destiny.

The Victorian costumes by Hanna Wilkinson are generally good setting the tone of the patriarchal society and rank of the participants except for the anachronistic leather jacket Macbeth first appears in and the bowler worn by the murderer reminiscent of the Clockwork Orange.

The simple traverse stage is very effective using the setting to maximum effect, raising the actors above the audience and atmospherically lit so it just catches their faces and casts long shadows across the stage and church walls. It amplifies the eerie setting of the church and the supernatural feel of the play. We frequently see Macbeth and the witches moving stealthily by the outside walls as the main action takes place on stage. 

The audience are drawn into the action most notably as the guests at the
banquet when Banquo's ghost (Peter Collis) appears and we are calmed by Lady Macbeth but also in the battle in Burnham Wood where we are the soldiers responding to Malcolm's urgings (Nathan Hamilton). When the murders and fights take place we feel at peril ourselves as if a body or knife is about to land in our lap.

Though the energy overspills into shouting in some scenes causing the clarity and diction of the speeches to get lost, for the most part they speak the parts wonderfully and the echoing of their voices around the venue adds to the drama (although with little evidence of Scottish accents).

Antic Disposition know what they are doing casting great Shakespearean actors and setting them in dramatic atmospheric locations that bring the language alive . This is another excellent Macbeth to enjoy... next up is John Sim's version at Chichester Festival Theatre in September.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Row AA | Price of Ticket: £25
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