views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Macbeth
The Rose
8th May 2015

★★★★☆

The ensemble of Macbeth

Photography provided by Malachite Theatre

The witches missed a bit. They should have said: "All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter - at least on the bloomin' fringe theatre scene." Performances need to be just that little bit special to stand out from the crowd and classical experts the Malachites achieve this. As is to be expected from this established company, the draw is not a modern-day rewrite or fancy special effects - the Malachites have always been more traditional in their approach. Director Benjamin Blyth wants us to experience the play like an Elizabethan audience coming to the story for the first time - a bold aim for theatregoers consisting of 21st century Londoners and an American school group. Nevertheless, despite the obvious challenges, I think we got pretty close.

Huddled in the cold of The Rose with the kindly provided blankets, it wasn't too hard to imagine the crowds in Shakespeare's time doing similar. As we've said before, this theatre contains so many memories and echoes that it adds an extra dimension to any show that takes place there - and this is particularly appropriate for Macbeth given its supernatural themes. Accustomed to the equally chilly but much larger space of St. Leonard's Church, Blyth adapts the layout of the archeological site especially well, and for me the clever use of the venue's quirky design is one of this Macbeth's standout features.

At the start of the production, Lady Macbeth (Orla Jackson) appears on the small balcony stage in the foreground. As she reads a letter from her husband, the events play out in the distance, the story unfolding by the rough foundations of the old Rose. This slight rejigging of the original text works incredibly well, instantly grabbing our attention.

The witches (Anatole Gadsby and Luke Gray) make their home on the concrete in the back corner of the excavation site. As they survey the land, they cast eerie shadows on the walls while their reflections swim in the waters below, making for some wonderful visuals. That they watch all the action (including the audience) certainly emphasises their all-knowing nature.

If you've not quite put your finger on what's different about the crones, these witches are male, with a Q&A revealing it's a choice of both tradition and to make you consider their status. It works - ultimately, the witches are genderless supernatural entities who do not conform to our narrow ideas. And let us not forget that men were also tried for witchcraft back in the day.

Good use of the stage and some intelligent directing make for an interesting piece. But, as in Elizabethan times, it is the acting that will ultimately make or break it. Thankfully, in this production all the performances are strong. In particular, Jackson stands out for her powerful and almost fearsome portrayal of Macbeth's wife. You certainly wouldn't want to mess with the Lady at the start of this show!

Blyth also deserves a special mention for his turn as Macbeth, particularly as he stepped in at the last minute when the original could no longer perform (yes, I know, it's the curse). He provides one of the most memorable moments, curling up under the dinner table in fear at the sight of the ghosts. Robert Madeley's fantastic comedy as the Porter - all too soon jettisoned from productions - is also a highlight. The American school group was in stitches, as I imagine the original audiences would have been on hearing the boyish jokes for the first time.

So, did we manage to be Elizabethan for the night? Judging from the reactions of my fellow theatregoers we all had a jolly good time. The language may not be as familiar to us, but I think we enjoyed Macbeth just as much as the crowds of yesteryear.

Macbeth opened on 5th May and runs until 30th May 2015.

Nearest tube station: London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee)



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