Review: Macbeth

4 star rating
A first class company, clear directorial vision and an atmospheric venue provide insights about the interplay of ambition and fate in a highly watchable and emotive production.
Macbeth at Temple Church from Antic Disposition

Image courtesy Antic Disposition


Theatre: Temple Church

Closes here: Saturday 7 September 2019

Author:
William Shakespeare

Composer:
James Burrows

Director:
Ben Horslen and John Risebero

Cast:

Harry Anton - Macbeth

Helen Millar - Lady Macbeth

Robert Bradley - Thane of Ross

Peter Collis - Banquo, Doctor

Chris Courtenay - Duncan, Seyton (Porter)

Nathan Hamilton - Malcolm, Murderer

Andrew Hislop - Macduff

Robyn Holdaway - Fleance, Young Macduff, Third Witch

Bryony Tebbutt - Lady Macduff, Second Witch

Louise Templeton - First Witch


Synopsis


Inspired by supernatural promises, a powerful nobleman and his ambitious wife carve a bloody path to the throne of Scotland.


But, as the true horror of their crimes begins to be revealed, both the realm and its rulers are plunged into madness.


Background


Award- winning Antic Disposition return to Temple Church following sold out, critically acclaimed runs of Romeo and Juliet in 2014, Henry V in 2015 and Richard III in 2017.


Located in the secluded heart of London's legal quarter, Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century and is one of London's most beautiful and historic buildings.


Perhaps best known for its unusual round form and stone effigies of medieval knights, Temple Church became famous more recently as a key location in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Friday 23 August 2019
Review star rating image

This production of Shakespeare's ever popular tragedy presents us with a unique offering since it's performed within the hallowed confines of the famous Temple Church.


It's a striking and beautiful setting that adds another layer of dramatic atmos to the sad and tragic tale of the rise and fall of Macbeth and his ambitious wife.


First performed in 1606, the play is about political power-seeking, a subject that then had considerable topical value after the traumatic times of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.


There's some resonance for present-day London audiences since a power struggle is, of course, underway just down the Thames as politicians argue and manoeuvre to stop or deliver Brexit.


But that's an issue that might be best discussed elsewhere since it tends to arouse fierce if not hostile debate which I have no intention of promoting here.


Antic Disposition must have something of a sense of déjà vu since they've been at this location several times before, receiving critical acclaim for their productions of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and Richard III from 2014 to 2017.


It's no surprise that the company are back in action here given their track record, but there's also an immediate hit of slick professionality right from the first moments of the play.


Don't read 'slick' to mean contrived, artificial or anything negative - I'm using 'slick' here to mean precise, polished and considered.


A duo of directors - Ben Horslen and John Risebero - have recruited a first class company of actors and also have a clear vision of just what they want this play to be and say.


The directorial team opt for a traverse staging which might just be the only viable option given the restrictions the layout of the venue imposes.


And the stage is raised so that we find ourselves with our heads just about level with the actors' shins.


That means that we have to look up to watch the action as well as frequently turn to see each end of the stage - and that does feel a little awkward, especially for those sitting in the front rows.


Nevertheless, this isn't quite the endurance test it might sound, and the pews in which we sit are firm without being uncomfortable.


Messrs Horslen and Risebero inject a Victorian feel in the costume department with frock coats and bustles in evidence, but not much in the way of military uniforms.


At the interval, I wondered if the pavement lamps surrounding the church might have possibly prompted the Victorian styling, but the programme notes seem to suggest the decision was based on the notion of a 'patriarchal society' with an interest in the supernatural.


That takes us back of course to the directorial vision which is certainly meticulously considered and rational.


But the costumes and Victorian setting didn't find universal favour - my eavesdropping during the interval turned-up one forthright lady declaring that she was a definite 'traditionalist', in terms of dress in this play.


That said, the costumes are certainly well-designed with Mrs Macbeth sporting a glossy and flamoyant red dress come the second half.


The Witches here are dressed like maids with long aprons and caps, and they also find their way into numerous scenes throughout the piece, which provides an original touch and suitably suggests that their influence is integral to the entire plot.


Since this is a touring show, there's little in the way of scenery or props, though a tin bath puts in an appearance at one point, and the witches cleverly levitate a table to underline the supernatural element.


And, of course, we do find a symbolic throne fetching up from which Banquo's ghost stares out at a terrified Macbeth.


In that latter role, Harry Anton brings both complexity and a dour depth to Macbeth's character as he declines into paranoia, ultimately acknowledging and giving in to his fate.


He is ably supported by Helen Millar's fine Lady Macbeth, and there's interesting and commendable work from Andrew Hislop as Macduff and Nathan Hamilton as Malcolm.


And there are splendidly enjoyable performances from Robyn Holdaway, Bryony Tebbutt and Louise Templeton as the three weird sisters.


But this is a very strong, highly impressive and well-orchestrated company who really don't put a foot wrong, producing a highly watchable and emotive production.



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