Opening on a midweek night where the weather decided to emulate that of Scotland you’d expect that there wouldn’t be much of an audience but the Dolphin was at about half capacity, and they were lucky because this was a great show.
This is a production in which GRADS is once more looking more slick and in the groove than some professional troupes I’ve seen. With a huge cast – 26! spangled with experienced performers like Stephen Lee and Jenny Howard, directed with Grant Malcolm’s the sure touch it’s a substantial offering. Even on the first night there’s an enormous frisson between the actors, quite sizzling at times!
But there’s too many to mention, even though I want to because even the smallest roles – a child stacking blocks - Isaac McCann’s humour and pathos, – a servant – Neve Havercroft’s studied expression - Tim Prosser’s doctor’s concerns both for his patient, and tellingly, more for himself all played with clarity, passion and dedication. Jeff Watkin’s ability to bring forth real tears in the throes of Macduff’s grief is very moving. There’s a driving force to this production and it seems at times to be wringing the very best out of the actors.
For purists complaining that they’ve made Duncan a Queen, not a King, pah – Sue Lynch has proved that she’s a fine Duncan and clearly has earned respect and loyalty. She’s just not going to get it from Macbeth, who, like the audience, is clearly captivated by the amazing Weird Sisters.
Grace Edwards, Sylvia Cornes and Anka Cikic were very clearly of the Other, frightening and manipulative, compelling with their cult-choreography and obscure warnings.
Stephen Lee as Macbeth and Jenny Howard as his ambitious wife were an amazing pair, and the way the dynamic see-sawed between them as one of them would be set by uncertainty or the odd vision of a bleeding ghost at the banquet, and be shored up by the other.
Kristine Lockwood’s Porter was a welcome and hilarious relief from the brooding atmosphere and some great physical comedy.
Shivas Lindsay’s Angus got the first laugh of the play when his genuine Scottish accent (amid so many acted in this play that I can be no judge of) announced that “We are sent To give thee from our royal mistress thanks; Only to herald thee into her sight, Not pay thee.”
Eddie Stowers and Davis McCann you wouldn’t want to meet, well, anywhere, in their roles as Murderers.
I’ve seen Banquos in the past that have been real walking bloodbaths, almost slaughterhouse visions, where it’s so over the top that the effect is over, heh, saturated, if you’ll pardon the expression. But when Banquo’s ghost comes on, it looks like he’s been murdered professionally, with no mucking about, a straightforward job, which is all the more chilling. Very realistic moulage.
Quite in keeping with the play, this is not a tame production – there is real fire and smoke, there are metal weapons and there’s stage fighting. And witches. The well tempered sound effects gather us into the play, and the music – original score by Myles Wright was very evocative. The actors are playing passionate roles of madness, violence, murderous death and anger and other overwhelming emotional conflicts.
If they had trigger warnings in Elizabethan times the ones for this one would be plastered all over the door. There’s one thing I’ve never seen done before in a stage play to quite that extent. (You’ll know it when you see it.) It’s really quite exciting.
Beautiful props – the Weird Sisters’ enormous Cauldron had a presence all of its own, and it was wise to let it have the stage to itself for a while, to allow us time to adjust to it. This must have taken a while to construct and it looks like antique cast iron. The thrones are beautiful pieces of work, I just hope that Banquo’s ghost didn’t bleed too much on them.
If you want to introduce someone to Shakespeare this production would be the one I’d pick – clarity, vision, terrible passion, fine acting, stage fighting, witches, great lighting and sound and stage. If you want to see some blood and thunder Shakespeare this is it too.
9/10 Indomitable and finding the Royal Shakespeare Company and Bell Shakespeare are juggling fire and duelling soliloquies at your local community theatre on the Sid and Nancy Scale.