St Paul’s Churchyard in Covent Garden is normally a haven of peace and tranquility away from the noise and people of central London. It is a spiritual place where a person can sit and take a look at the lovely flowers and just chill. However, if you pop into here at the moment, you will be in for a slightly different atmosphere, with war, murder, mayhem, witchcraft and betrayal as Iris Theatre present their promenade version of William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Macbeth.
The basic story is a very familiar one. A brave Scottish general named Macbeth (David Hywel Baynes) receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland. Shortly after this, another Thane by the name of Ross (Linford Johnson) arrives and greets Macbeth by the title Thane of Cawdor. Now believing the witches may have been onto something, Macbeth is consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife (Mogali Masuku), He murders King Duncan (Stephen Boyce) and as the King’s heir, Prince Malcolm (Jenny Horsthuis) escapes to England, Macbeth takes the Scottish throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia. Fearing the witches prophecy about his friend Banquo (Nick Howard-Brown) he is forced to commit more and more murders to protect himself from enmity and suspicion, he soon becomes a tyrannical ruler, leaving good men such as the proud Macduff (Matt Stubbs) with no option but to flee to England and join Malcolm as he prepares to take back his homeland from the usurper. The bloodbath and consequent civil war swiftly take Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of madness and death.
A beautiful summer’s evening in a picturesque churchyard and a murderous tale of hocus pocus and vile deaths should never be put together. Iris Theatre have not only done so but done it in tremendous style. The cast may be small but they are, as they say, perfectly formed. Set Designer Alice Channon uses every inch of the church and its yard to provide some great locations for the unfolding tale. Director Daniel Winder has made this a very dark and spooky version of the play and it really works. At times the action is quite brutal and I’m not too sure it would be completely suitable for youngsters of a nervous disposition. I don’t want to give too many details of the production away as it would spoil some of the very impressive surprises but, full credit to Anna Sances for some outstanding costumes and Fight Director Roger Bartlett who has produced some amazingly realistic fights, both with swords and up close.
David Hywel Baynes, in the title role, leads a multi-talented cast. We watch his Macbeth turn from affable lord of the manor to demented murderer doing anything to cling on to a power he doesn’t really have. The rest of the six cast play the other 13 roles in this version. A quick mention for Mogali Masuku as Lady Macbeth. Like her husband, she starts of proud and upright and is, in fact, the stronger of the two characters. However, she is the first to fall and Masuku plays her descent to madness brilliantly. Together, these two actors made the Macbeths into a formidable team and a joy to watch as an audience member.
One interesting point is that some of the characters are played by what could be perceived to be an actor of the wrong gender. The reality is that it doesn’t matter. In Shakespeare’s day, men played all the roles and the writing and acting are so good, the gender of the actor playing the role is totally irrelevant.
Again, without giving anything away, I will say I had a couple of favourite scenes. The end of the first act and opening of the second particularly stand out for me as does the final scene as Macbeth realises the truth of the witches prophesies but still tries to break them.
All told then, this is the best version of Macbeth I have seen so far. Beautifully staged in the Actor’s Church, the entire production is first rate. Shakespeare really did come to life as the sun went down and the evening took over, mirroring the fall of Macbeth as his plans and dreams disappeared over the horizon. Highly recommended.
Review by Terry Eastham
In a new production directed by Daniel Winder, experience the greatest psychological horror story ever told.
Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a terrifying journey into the mind of a murderer. Inspired by the psychosexual imagery of Hieronymus Bosch, this production will weave its way around the grounds of St Paul’s Church; reflecting the play’s journey into the twisted mental landscape of Macbeth as he rises to be king.
Returning to Iris Theatre after three years, David Hywel Baynes takes on the title role, following his critically-acclaimed and Offie-nominated performance in 2014’s Iris production of Richard III.
David Hywel Baynes (Macbeth/Rebel Soldier)
Stephan Boyce (Duncan & Seyton/Porter & Padock & Apparitions)
Jenny Horsthuis (Malcolm & Lady Macduff & Second Witch)
Nick Howard-Brown (Banquo & Captain & Apparitions)
Linford Johnson (Ross/1st Witch)
Mogali Masuku (Lady Macbeth & Macduff’s Son & Captain’s Son & Fleance & Third Witch)
Matt Stubbs (Macduff & Murderer & Harpier & Apparitions)
Macbeth Creative Team: Director Daniel Winder. Set Designer Alice Channon. Costume Designer Anna Sances. Fight Director Roger Bartlett. Lighting Designer Benjamin Polya. Sound Designer and Composer Filipe Gomes. Movement Elissa Aravidou. Witches Choreographer Lina Johansson.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare, directed by Daniel Winder
Wednesday 21 June – Saturday 29 July.