views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Story Night at Torriano: Macbeth Re-told by Debs Newbold
Torriano Meeting House
12th November 2014


Debs Newbold

Photography provided by Debs Newbold

For all its cosmopolitan, buzzing goings on, London can be a pretty impersonal place a lot of the time. Speak to strangers and you'll at best be ignored and at worst probably stabbed. It's a sad state of events, so wouldn't you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name - and they're always glad you came. If Boston's a bit of a trek for you, there's always Nell Phoenix's Story Night at the Torriano, an equally welcoming venue and, on my visit, playing host to Debs Newbold and her retelling of Macbeth.

A word of warning. If you are a little claustrophobic or, indeed, someone who would rather shiv a man than have polite chit-chat, this probably isn't for you. There's a likelihood you'll leave with about 20 new friends, most of whom are all but sat on your lap in the small but perfectly formed Torriano Meeting House. And if you're not a sociopath, it simply adds to the fun and bonhomie fostered by the exuberant Phoenix.

The night began as it always seems to, with a couple of short stories from the floor. These took the form of a delightful tale on the origins of the chrysanthemum from a slightly nervy yet endearing Italian and one tale from the life of Irish folk hero Cu Chulainn. Or Cuchulain. Or Setanta. Whatever you prefer. The short tales were a cracking start to get us in the mood for the main event.

And what a main event it was. From the second Newbold stepped onto the stage, the atmosphere was incredible, like the smell of ozone and feeling of electricity in the air just before a thunderstorm. The applause 70-odd minutes later served as the downpour to break the hypnosis on a rapt audience. It's not that she's just a naturally gifted performer (she is) but there's a considered approach, an intellectualism for the masses, that underpins her words. She knows Shakespeare, that much is clear. And you'd better know the Bard if you're going to start adding vivid imagery and expanding on his words.

Here, Macbeth is a warrior first and foremost, falling into boredom and apathy when battles aren't to be fought, and becomes increasingly paranoid. No, like, even paranoid for Macbeth. The witches circle as ravens, representing the absolute power that corrupts absolutely, if you're not good old Malcolm, of course. But the supernatural in this tale is measured, never removing the agency of the characters as it progresses. Sure, Newbold's keen to explain the behaviour of Macbeth and company however never makes excuses for them.

In the telling, her language is at once painfully eloquent and superbly crass. The description of Banquo's ghost was a particular stand-out, but she's never shy of puncturing the tension with a well-aimed quip or joke. She is telling a tale not putting on a play after all. It allows her to move outside of the action, addressing the audience directly and referencing Brian Blessed, among others. When some storytellers get into the zone, there's a tendency to go through the motions without gauging or engaging - not so here. She calls herself a "crowd tamer" and with one eye on the audience, it's an apt description.

It's a bit of an odd one this, a review of both the event and specifically of Newbold's performance. But the two inform the other - if Story Night can attract the calibre of performer as seen here and storytelling's your bag, get to their shows. Equally, the evening provided a platform for one of Newbold's Shakespeare trilogy, something that I dare say would have entirely passed me by. The existence of two more - King Lear and Romeo and Juliet - fills me with the same joy I get from knowing that evenings such as this (and the Crick Crack Club) even exist. Stick yer Globe productions, Stratford can get stuffed. For my money, I'm currently happier with one unfeasibly talented woman and a stage.

Story Night at Torriano: Macbeth Re-told by Debs Newbold ran on 12th November 2014 at Torriano Meeting House. Story Night runs on the second Wednesday of every month.

Nearest tube station: Kentish Town (Northern)

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