Iris’ Theatre’s production of Macbeth is a visual and aural feast. Fantastically weird costumes, obscenely twisted set design and eerie, ominous chimes and rumbles combine to create a deliciously dark and menacing atmosphere, perfect for this story of betrayal, murder and madness.
It is therefore regrettable that they should have chosen to stage it in a beautiful flower garden on a summer’s evening in central London. Not only is the bloody mayhem incongruous against a sunny backdrop of sweetly swaying roses, but it is hard to maintain a sense of impending medieval doom to a soundtrack of car horns and Adele drifting from a nearby pub.
The team have made a valiant attempt to make the best of their surroundings. The tolling of the church bell has been cleverly incorporated into the action, and the hammering at the heavy gates is authentic and suspenseful. We are swept smoothly from one set to another in and around St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, beckoned and marshalled by the cast themselves. Each new location is appropriate for the action, and, importantly, the sightlines have been vigilantly monitored. Alice Channon’s set design is imaginative and intelligently adapted, and by the time we come back to where we started, the layout has been switched by an army of invisible helpers, making it almost unrecognisable.
The most serious problem for the cast is the ambient noise. All dialogue, whether delivered in the heat of battle or in a quiet, intimate moment has to be bellowed to be audible, meaning that much of the subtle nuance is lost. Occasionally, in an attempt to drown out the traffic and the revellers, the sound team turn up the volume of the music meaning that the cast have to fight that as well. It is a shame, as they are clearly all extremely talented actors. David Hywel Baynes’ progression from brave soldier Macbeth to tyrannical despot and finally to paranoid, twitching wreck is beautifully done. Mogali Masuku’s proud, ambitious Lady Macbeth disintegrates heart-breakingly before our very eyes, and Jenny Horsthuis is excellent as both the conflicted Malcolm and the doomed Lady Macduff.
No review of Macbeth would be complete without a mention of the witches. In Iris’ production, they have become otherworldly beings in the most literal sense of the word – they look like aliens. Insect-like, predatory, misshapen, their armoured carapaces loom menacingly over the action throughout. It is not quite clear why they are depicted this way, but they look amazing. Yet again, though, it is hard not to wish that we were seeing them in a darkened, eerily lit theatre where they would be displayed to best effect. Watching them march through the flowerbeds, the greatest temptation is to reach for the pesticide.
The scenes that work best are the ones staged in the church itself. The dim lights, echoing rafters and Hieronymus Bosch inspired paintings make for a disquieting atmosphere.
Banquo’s ghostly reappearance at the banquet is wonderfully gruesome, and the final denouement is shocking and tragic in equal measure. While the production is certainly enjoyable, those indoor scenes showed that it could have been truly excellent. If Iris were to stage their version of Macbeth again in the future, in a more appropriate location, I would be delighted to go and watch it. A production with a wealth of original, imaginative potential, hampered by practicalities.
Review by Genni trickett
Macbeth by William Shakespeare, directed by Daniel Winder, will run Wednesday 21 June – Saturday 29 July. Press Night is Wednesday 28 June at 7.30pm.
Completing the summer season of promenade open-air theatre with casting still to be announced, Hansel & Gretel and the Witch Baba Yaga by Daniel Winder, directed by Amy Draper, will run Thursday 3 August – Sunday 3 September. Press Night is Tuesday 8 August at 7.00pm
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).
Venice (The Globe); Hamlet (Tivoli Theatre).
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.
Artistic director Daniel Winder opens the 2017 season by directing Shakespeare’s Macbeth, a terrifying journey into the mind of a murderer. 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.
Iris Theatre presents
by William Shakespeare
Director: Daniel Winder
St Paul’s Church
London WC2E 9ED
21 June – 29 July 2017