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Macbeth review: Immersive and intelligently executed

Updated: Dec 4, 2021

Review by: Nadia Ribot-Smith

The first run of ‘Macbeth’, played at the Union Pyramid Theatre last night. I was lucky enough to be able to attend and see what was an incredibly confident, well-considered and intelligently executed production.

Shakespeare is indisputably well-trodden ground, offering challenges and opportunity in equal parts. This production of ‘Macbeth’ navigates the difficult line of condensing the source material for a student production, whilst retaining its original appeal with elegance and sophistication. The quality of the direction and artistic choices were evident within the first moments of the opening scene. Lighting and sound were expertly crafted; the dark neon red light combining beautifully with the smoke to create an atmospheric and genuinely frightening opening scene. Lightning cracks as demented cackles escape from the upper corner of the room and the first witch runs across the stage, circling above the crowd gasping and giggling gleefully. The actresses circles a number of times, each time maintaining the same level of frenetic energy as the last and commits to the performance lunging manically, perfectly unhinged. This is a play which isn’t afraid to let its audience sit with a moment fostering genuine fear and tension.

Often plays will can lost in exposition, relying on telling rather than showing. But here, the witch’s laugh lasts long enough for us to not only know is there something wicked approaching, but to feel it. The two other witches enter the stage, their silhouettes writhing in choreographed movement as their bodies contort in the now blue smoke. Again, we sit with the scene which lingers, immersing its audience fully before the iconic lines begin.

All photos in this article by Abby Swain

The entire play feels well-rehearsed. The actors deliver their lines with great pacing and timing and the scene changes feel natural, immediately putting me at ease. There’s clear and international direction from Emilie Clarke, Howard Gould-Yates and Grace Conway which serves to elevate the entire production. Directorial style is something that is difficult to establish in any medium and for it to stand out in the way it did is a testament to the clear care that Clarke, Gould-Yates and Conway put into the show. The set is appropriately minimalistic. Simplistic and effective for the atmosphere that they want to create. They seem aware of the unique space and have fun with it, exploiting it to its full potential. Characters enter and exit between the seats, Macbeth performs several his monologues above the crowd, the witches circle the main stage as they chalk symbols on the floor for the audience to see. It’s such smart use of space which serves to heighten engagement whilst also encouraging added attention to the wonderful actors.

The acting in this production is also worth explicitly noting. There are fantastic performances from the entire cast and several members really shine in their designated roles.

Matthew Dangerfield and Evelyn Blackwell deliver as the leads. Dangerfield does a fantastic job in capturing the initial bravado and immaturity of Macbeth, succeeding in delineating a genuinely traceable character arc. Plotting Macbeths journey from overly confident to wracked with guilt followed by a steady decent into madness. His interpretation of Macbeths dagger monologue saw him tap into notes of emotion that I have truly never seen explored. Throughout just the short text he guides us though denial, fear, anger and submission in varying combinations and it’s a delight to watch. Shakespeare is undoubtably intimidating material and often actors can hide themselves in the words. But Dangerfield does not and neither does Blackwell who is equally entrancing as lady Macbeth. Maintaining the perfect balance of rage and repression. She delivers everything required to do justice to arguably the most interesting character in the play. Never shouting, and always measured, we hang on her every word. It’s a beautiful contrast to the melodramatic Macbeth and when together, their dynamic electrifies. A subtle dance between mother and son, husband and wife. The power dynamics shift smoothly and credibly thought-out.

Overall, the cast and crew have done fantastically. More special mentions to the two porters who do a great job of ad-libbing and providing much needed comic relief. This ‘Macbeth’ does a stellar job of abridging the original play for a modern audience and condensing it into its 2-hour run time. Throughout the show, the artistic choices made by the whole team are intelligent and impressive and provide a wholly immersive experience which engulfs the senses in the way that good theatre strives to do. The production plays with the source material whilst maintaining a consistent tone and never sacrificing the integrity of the original work. Throughout the run, directorial choices stand out with thought and active intention and serve to elevate the play beyond a standard Shakespearean production. In summary, the show is a testament to the clear effort and dedication of all those involved, and what results is an incredibly impressive and interesting interpretation of the Shakespearean canon.

Macbeth is playing tonight (19.11.2021) and tomorrow (20.11.2021) at the Union Pyramid theatre. Tickets available via this link.

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