MACBETH – New Wimbledon Studio, London.
Arrows & Traps Theatre Company present Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a personable and accessible way, showing the tragic Scottish nobleman as less of a cold blooded killer and more as a deeply troubled man haunted by his misdeeds. There is a lot to like about this production, adapted and directed by Ross McGregor, not least it’s lack of pretension and elitism.
Macbeth himself is played by David Paisley with a surprising amount of warmth, at least at the beginning. After encountering a trio of witches on the moor after battle, Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth (Cornelian Baumann, who manages to be both sweet and manipulative simultaneously) become obsessed with fulfilling a prophecy that he will one day become King of Scotland. Killing the current monarch Duncan in his (her!) sleep and blaming it on her heir Malcolm (Alex Stevens), the Macbeth’s become embroiled in lies to keep his usurped throne secure and fend off an invading army from England, led by Malcolm to regain this rightful throne.
After the critically successful production of Lear at the Union Theatre in 2014 in which the title role was played by a woman, it is welcome to once again see gender-blind casting at work in a satisfying change from Shakespeare’s time when women were not allowed on stage. Duncan and Banquo are both played by women here (Jean Apps and Becky Black respectively) and it gives the play a subtle yet intriguing shift in dynamic. In fact, this cast of 11 includes more women than men.
Shakespeare’s plays, especially the tragedies, often work best in intimate spaces like the New Wimbledon Studio, giving the audience a visceral sense of the character’s struggles and motivations that is sometimes lost in larger spaces. With violent brawls happening inches away it is difficult not to get caught up in the story. The stripped back set, only a large table in the middle of the floor, means there are no distractions from the words being spoken and the emotions being expressed.
As with any experimental piece, there are a few mis-steps. A couple of musical numbers performed by the witches fit the tone of the play but do not add to the narrative, and a few modern references are somewhat jarring. But overall you would be hard-pressed to find a more entertaining production of Macbeth. In the climactic battle at Dunsinane, fight and dance choreography (by Alex Payne and Nancy Kettle) combine to create a vivid interpretation of Macbeth’s downfall. There is also more than a little influence from the horror genre in evidence when Macbeth is haunted by the ghosts of those he has murdered. The scene where Banquo reappears to him during a banquet is both playful and tense.
Shakespeare is for everyone, or at least should be, and the way Macbeth is presented here is uncomplicated and real, due in large part to a sympathetic portrayal of a character who, when you step outside the moment and truly consider what he has done, is very difficult to like.
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By Catherine Duffy
14th June – 9th July 2016
New Wimbledon Studio Theatre, London SW19 1QG