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Macbeth at Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch | Review

Paul Tinto and Ewan Somers in Macbeth, photo by Mark Sepple.
Paul Tinto and Ewan Somers in Macbeth, photo by Mark Sepple.

A school party was in the audience at the performance I attended of this production of Macbeth, which almost immediately made me think of various productions of Shakespeare plays which must have left teachers more than a little exasperated, such was the level of radical reinterpretation going on in the show in question. That sort of thing has artistic merit, of course, but is not ideal for classes studying the text for academic purposes. Such fears are surplus to requirements in what is a faithful rendering – or at least not something too far removed from the play as it is studied for GCSE.

The set works well in this production – the stage is never unnecessarily cluttered but gives just about the right sort of setting for each scene. It’s clear where every scene is set without an overreliance on the script to place each scene in context. Purists may find that the rhythm set by the iambic pentameter is not always maintained, though the same purists will probably point out that the witches (in this production, Connie Walker, Danielle Kassaraté and Colette McNulty) speak in a different form of blank verse.

There are no weak links to report in the cast, who proceed through the narrative in what comes across as a very methodical and steady manner, particularly in the first half. The tension builds and it is only in the second half that the title character (Paul Tinto) amongst others start to express themselves at full tilt. This is a good thing – I’ve seen Macbeth done with a lot of shouting at the top of the show, leaving it with nowhere to go but to maintain that level of noise almost throughout. Thankfully there is no need to wear ear defenders here.

The costumes are appropriate enough, including the use of chain mail and, as ever, swords. The fight sequences aren’t, alas, always entirely convincing, but then again if they were, this might well detract from the audience’s concentration on the storyline. There’s also a generous amount of fake blood to be seen. Perhaps I’m simply more accustomed to Macbeth delivered with such rapidity that the subtler approach taken here took me some time to get used to.

Nothing in the way of “toil and trouble”, then, in terms of this production of ‘the Scottish play’ not going according to plan. Surprisingly (at least for me) the use of sound and music, usually a bugbear, didn’t bother me in the slightest, and the lighting is often highly effective. The battle scenes are portrayed imaginatively through silhouettes, and the way various characters are presented here means the production stamps its own authority on this oft-performed play. Take, for instance, Lady Macbeth (Phoebe Sparrow), who came across as asserting herself through sheer insistence and doggedness rather than sly manipulation. Then there is Macduff (Ewan Somers), extremely stoic on receiving news of what happened to his family in Act Four (let’s just say this play isn’t classed as a tragedy for the sake of it), to the point that I’m still in two minds as to how much he really cared about them.

Perhaps a few minutes could be shaved off the running time – a couple of scene changes, strictly speaking, took a tad longer than what modern audiences are used to. In the end, though, this is an assured and sufficiently gripping production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Battles. Murder. Ghosts. And desire…
Three witches on a heath have a disturbing prophecy for a victorious warrior. Macbeth will be king of Scotland. As this wicked seed is planted, daring Macbeth and his determined wife Lady Macbeth draw bloody daggers and set out on a fateful path.

But seizing the crown comes at a terrible price, as guilt grows, enemies draw close and the fight for survival hurtles towards a tragic conclusion…

This epic and intensely terrifying period version of Shakespeare’s most regal and timeless classic warns of the effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake.

A Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Derby Theatre production
Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
7 – 29 Feb 2020
https://www.queens-theatre.co.uk/

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