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The Watermill Ensemble Present Macbeth at Wilton’s Music Hall

Macbeth at The Watermill Theatre. Billy Postlethwaite. Photo credit Pamela Raith.
Macbeth at The Watermill Theatre. Billy Postlethwaite. Photo credit Pamela Raith.

The curse of ‘the Scottish play’ struck again on press night, which led to the audience leaving the theatre almost an hour after it was supposed to. With Lady Macduff (Lauryn Redding) suddenly indisposed, the decision would ordinarily have been to call off the performance, as there are no understudies. Emma Barclay, who had played the role in a previous run, was in the audience, and offered her services. The offer was accepted, and the show eventually restarted from the very top, with the original plan for Barclay to have a script in hand not followed through in the end. She knew the role well enough to just get on with it. It is almost a pity that – as per – her character is put to death in Act Four.

Sharp blades of one kind or another are never far away in this production, and with contemporary garb and the inclusion of music from the 1960s onwards, a parallel could well be made between the play and life in modern London, with people slain by the knife with alarming regularity in both cases.

There are some atmospheric sound effects, but they are a bit too persistent, such that they lose their effectiveness after a while, as well as making it unnecessarily difficult to hear what is being said. But the soundscape is not solely to blame for lack of clarity – sometimes a character simply does not speak loud enough, for instance, above the noise of the sound effects. Some of them speak upstage, and on more than one occasion.

It could be to do with the acoustics of an older building (the Wilton’s Music Hall opened in 1859) with regards to the difficulty in perfectly balancing the sound of actor-musicians playing instruments and fellow actors speaking their lines. Furthermore, a concerted effort is made to make the Shakespeare text sound naturalistic, or even conversational. Interestingly, Scottish accents are few and far between in this production. I remain undecided as to how contentious a point this is: is it like expecting all the staff in a French restaurant to speak to customers in French accents?

The set itself is not much to write home about, which at least makes for swift scene changes. A series of doors are lined up at the back of the stage, used as entrances and exits. More than once, the ‘exeunt’ of one group of characters followed by the entry of another is so precisely timed it brought to mind bedroom farces. The lighting befits the darkness of the settings and the narrative, but it is sometimes too dark, to the point where I wondered if this might work better as a radio play.

That said, it does well during the songs to create the feeling of a gig. Perhaps it is your reviewer’s familiarity with the storyline, but it wasn’t easy to maintain engagement with this production, which came across as being better suited to people who haven’t encountered Macbeth before. It’s easy to see what the production is trying to achieve with the inclusion of eleven songs (seldom the full length versions, I hasten to add), but aside from that, this isn’t ultimately that radical an interpretation (or reinterpretation) of this oft-performed play.

Macduff (Mike Slader) shows some passionate emotion in the form of palpable grief. The witches are completely invisible, and their lines reduced. Put it this way: sometimes less is more. A moment of dry wit lies in a partially lit ‘hotel’ sign with letters missing (as if welcoming guests to hell). There’s even a ‘6’ on each of the three central doors leading up to the hotel’s rooms. Overall, a good effort from a slick and somewhat seductive production.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Passion, ambition and desire ignite in this thrilling tragedy. The Watermill Ensemble return following the success of Twelfth Night at Wilton’s in 2018. Blazing with tension, energy and passion, experience a powerful new interpretation of Macbeth, the Watermill Ensemble’s boldest production to date. Fuelled by greed, ambition and desire, the Macbeths’ desperation to survive is reflected in the fierce reverberations of Johnny Cash, The xx and The Rolling Stones…

Macbeth is performed in repertory with Watermill Theatre’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Artistic Director Paul Hart’s visceral actor-musician led productions are presented by the Newbury based theatre’s celebrated resident Shakespeare company, The Watermill Ensemble, whose previous successes have also included Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night.

Molly Chesworth
Lucy Keirl
Emma McDonald
Peter Mooney
Billy Postlethwaite
Lauryn Redding
Jamie Satterthwaite
Robyn Sinclair
Tom Sowinski
Mike Slader

Creative Team
Directed by Paul Hart
Designed by Katie Lias
Movement by Tom Jackson Greaves
Lighting designed by Tom White
Sound designed by David Gregory
Video projection design by Louise Rhoades-Brown
Musical Direction by Maimuna Memon
Assistant Musical Direction by Max Runham
Arrangements and additional music by Maimuna Memon and The Company
Associate Director Robert Kirby
Associate Movement Director Anjali Mehra
Dramaturg Danielle Pearson
Fight Director Ian McCracken

Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including a 20 minute interval

By William Shakespeare
JANUARY 22nd to FEBRUARY 15th 2020


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