[Review:] MACBETH, Temple Church, London.

Antic Disposition’s Macbeth is a truly captivating and impactful play, and before beginning this review, I would like to commend all actors for their nigh-on perfect Shakespeare acting. Accurate, powerful and just the right amount of emphasis between prosaic and poetic, these actors should stand as a significant reference point for all Shakespeare actors.

There were a few moments, of course, where characterisation slipped, and this was particularly the case for the cast in the very opening of the play, which had me rather worried for its potential. Actors, primarily Andrew Hislop (playing Macduff), were very stiff, performing with repetitive gesticulations and monotonal voice. However, this changed significantly as the play went on, and a marvellous progression was made from Hislop, I must say. Fluidity, between one thought, line or gesture to the other, is perhaps the main feature which disrupts the near-perfection for the actors in this performance, yet this is but a minute feature at that.

The biggest highlight of all adaptations of Macbeth is by far the witches, and on directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero’s witches, I have quite a lot to say. This adaptation sees these characters (Louise Templeton, Bryony Tebbutt and Robyn Holdaway) as servants, dressed aptly in the uniform of a Tudor maid. This is a very clever way of interpreting them, one which permits them to skulk across all areas of the play, to blend in with the very fabric of the story as it unfolds. It is an interestingly passive representation — as maids are commanded by chores, the witches are commanded by fate — yet the horror of this image comes with the subversive knowledge that the passive are, in fact, the active, channels for the desires of destiny and [mis]fortune. This is intensified in the cauldron scene where an ordinary tin bath and pile of laundry are used as the materials for the witches’ spells. A most beautiful and inspiring scene.

As for characterisation, however, I have mixed feelings. For all primary scenes, the witches are rather reserved, moving very little, speaking rather hushedly, staring towards the audience with a wide and daring gaze. Whilst a little underwhelming at first to see these witches so…motionless, it is a definite characteristic of these particular witches’ allure. In their subtlety and downplayed evil, we expect that there is more bubbling away below the surface than is made out to be. This sense is achieved through a combination of the text, their absurd hand positions and their glares, all under the guise of civility and calm.

Yet, this character type becomes problematic and frictional when put beside the cauldron scene. In this scene, the witches are frenzied, wildly stirring, loudly shrieking. It is a complete contrast from the passive and conservative witches they have been up until this point. There is no progression between these two states which would contextualise this change, and hence there is a lack of coherency and continuity. Discontinuity aside, however, in maintaining this glare at the audience and each other, the witches were most chilling. Rehearsals had clearly benefitted them well, not blinking to break this stare at all throughout –– though much less can be said of Robyn Holdaway in this way, unfortunately.

As for other characterisations, all actors made for distinct idiosyncrasies, mannerisms and behaviours, though I would have perhaps liked this to have been emphasised more in certain scenes. This is primarily the case for Harry Anton’s characterisation of Macbeth, maintaining a strong-willed, confident persona the whole way through but bearing little particularities in terms of character habitudes and deeper personality –– a significant problem, being the titular character. Death scenes, though somewhat quick and sparing, were well done and, on the whole, realistic. However, it would be better to have the bodies carried off the stage, perhaps by the witches, rather than to see the actor stand immediately and rush off stage which instantaneously destroys the illusion and impact that one has tried so carefully to craft. Perhaps a better blackout would have concealed this, instead. Fighting scenes (directed by Bethan Clark, Rc-Annie Ltd) were actually very good and continued to be engaging despite their recurrence. This performance also manages to conceal just enough murder, gore and drama to be mysterious and intriguing instead of overcooked. A slightly darker colour of fake blood could have aided realism, however.

As for music (composed by James Burrows), this was definitely atmospheric and epic, invoking a sense of severity, action and voyage. However, the music for the overture was left to go on for far, far too long before anyone entered the stage. Lighting was adequate, but, as I mentioned earlier, blackouts could have been darker, particularly at the sides of the stage, though I understand that this is also a matter of natural lighting due to the windows of the church. Being a rather long traverse stage, I felt that the lighting was sufficient and impressive in that its intensity allowed it to pervade the stage’s entirety. The appropriate lights were definitely chosen for this performance, despite the offstage overflow. As for topography, directors Horslen and Risebero and all actors demonstrated a very good awareness of space, action being viewable from all angles. The only issue with view was perhaps in tighter scenes such as the cauldron scene and some aspects of the fighting scenes. Finally, costume (designed by Hanna Wilkinson). Costume seemed to reference too many time periods, with Macbeth’s leather coat, early 1800s menswear, early 1900s womenswear, and the Tudor maid outfits. Though this made for a lack of realism, the silhouettes fitted sublimely together and felt cohesive. Macbeth’s costume made him seem as though an ordinary member of the working class amongst gentlemen, evocative, especially with his witchy dealings, of a sort of daring Van Helsing. Lady Macbeth (Helen Millar) and Lady Macduff’s (Bryony Tebbutt) costumes, however, ranged from beautiful to terribly frumpy and ill-fitting.

Overall, a very confident, powerful and cogent piece of theatre. All actors were convincing, clearly understood their text, and made little to no mistakes. Decisions in this adaptation were bold, impressive, coherent and cohesive. Beaming with vitality, intrigue and visual appeal, this play is a definite must-see.

“Captivating, dark, aesthetically pleasing, this play is everything one would hope it to be.”

4 Stars

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