Macbeth

Wed 23rd – Fri 25th November 2011

reviews

Victoria Weavil

at 08:54 on 24th Nov 2011

1agrees

1disagrees

Attempting an original rendition of ‘Macbeth’ – a trusty regular on the Oxford theatre circuit - is without doubt an ambitious endeavour. Yet with its promise of gruesome bloodshed populated with ‘reanimated corpses’, ‘pints of blood’ and ‘buckets of urine’ - all set to the gritty backdrop of a bleak post-apocalyptic future – I had high hopes for this production. I confess I came away in two minds as to its success.

For although let down by a disappointing degree of overall inconsistency, the production was strengthened by a number of first-rate performances from the cast. The three witches, for instance, kicked off the show with a bang in a performance that exudes just the right amount of frenetic agitation and mesmerising ghoulishness. All three novices, Holly Graham, Leonie Nicks and Helen Walker command the stage as a perfect ensemble and are to be commended for a consistently enthralling performance that holds the audience firmly under its spell throughout each and every one of their scenes. Director Luke Jew and the production team deserve particular praise for the witches’ final scene, in which strobe lighting and a rhythmic, almost rap-like exchange of those famous lines – “Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble”, "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes!” – combine to great effect.

Equally mesmerising is Edwin Price as the formidable Macduff. The programme describes Macduff as “arguably the most important male role in ‘Macbeth’”. I would be tempted – at least in this production - to go one step further and declare it to be the most important. Commanding, convincing, and nailing the full gamut of emotions required of the role down to a tee, it is Macduff, not Macbeth, who holds centre stage here. For despite some impressive scenes (his confrontation with the ghost of Banquo is a tour-de-force) unfortunately Iain Stewart’s rendition of Macbeth falls just short of pulling off the emotional authenticity required of the play’s eponymous character to drive the narrative forward.

The opposite is to be said of Alicia Luba as Lady Macbeth, however. In a performance which commands the audience’s attention from start to finish, Alicia delivers a dazzling portrayal of this most wicked of females, treating the audience to just the right dose of heinous madness and bewildered hysteria. The sleep-walking scene - in which she coasts onto the stage cloaked in an entrancing air of psychosis and wails out the famous lines in a perfect state of bewitching frenzy (“What, will these hands ne’er be clean?”, “Out, damned spot! out, I say!”) – is a particular treat. Alicia is also to be praised for her impressive command of vocal intensity and clarity of articulation, an achievement unfortunately lacking in some other members of the cast. One final world of praise is owed to Adam Gethin-Jones whose excellent depiction of the drunken Porter brings some much-needed comic relief to the proceedings.

At times the dynamic between characters suffered from a certain amount of woodenness, and would have benefited from a touch more dynamism from the cast. The production team did an excellent job though – the sparse set, harsh lighting and eerie sound-effects all add greatly to the ambiance – and the pace does pick up notably in the second half.

So aside from a saving peppering of first-rate performances, I found the overall quality of the production to be diminished by an overarching emotional flatness. Perhaps we really have all just seen one too many Macbeths.

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Hyunwoo June Choo

at 09:00 on 24th Nov 2011

1agrees

1disagrees

St. Hilda’s has held quite a reputation for its drama productions, and upon seeing ‘Macbeth,’ I am now enthusiastically a fan. I have read the text back in high school, so throughout the play, I had mental cues prophesying the course of plot; despite such anticipation, I found myself shivering on the edge of my seat in fear and awe.

In terms of plot, there isn’t much surprise. The protagonist Macbeth (Iain Stewart) is seduced by the promise of power and resorts to murder as a means to achieve his destiny. When his conscience thwarts his attempts, Lady Macbeth (Alicia Luba) ushers him right along, blackmailing Macbeth to fulfill his rightful duties as a man. Murders snowball, conscience incapacitates their mental faculties, and both ultimately collapse in the style of traditional Shakespearean tragedy. What transforms this old story into this special production is the perfect synchrony of lighting, costume and talent.

The play sets the expectations high from the opening scene with the three frizz-haired witches (Holly Graham, Leonie Nicks, and Helen Walker) who, clad in draping tattered gowns, twitch and tremor about the dimly lit stage. Something is very unsettling about their insidious grimace and the shrill voices. But the creepiness peaks as they come into the familiar unison “fair is foul, and foul is fair;” they were so convincingly haunting that I (and a few other audiences) instinctively cowered away as they later shuffled down the aisles.

Likewise, the play in its entirety seems to have been planned with painstaking detail: the cool dim lighting cues for soliloquies, running mascara during Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scenes, coordinated infant cries (among other soundtrack) in the backdrop, the staggered timing in which the guests at Macbeth’s dinner drop their wine chalices, use of aisles for entrance and exit, Fleance’s (Rebecca Danicic) juvenile gnawing of sweets, to name just a few features which reveal the amount of effort that went into planning this production.

To describe memorable scenes would be a little overwhelming for this short review, but a few soliloquies definitely demand commendation. Shakespeare’s gift to this production is the abundance of them; in particular, Luba’s interpretations—absolutely sensational. Also, the porter (Adam Gethin-Jones) delivers a powerful comic relief, comfortably engaging in some intimate in-your-face moments with the audience. Given the talent from the supporting actors, I expected more commitment to Macbeth’s emotions from Stewart’s soliloquy, but that doesn’t discount his overall great lead. Other impressive performances were from Macduff (Edwin Price), whose furious fit of anger I can still remember, and Lennox (John Bagnall), who comes across very endearing.

Since this is Macbeth, gore is a requisite. Considering the possibilities, the extent of bloodshed was fairly moderate, which works for squeamish audiences like me. To be nitpicky, it is a little inconsistent, for the murders committed in the second act lack the red when compared to those in the first. Otherwise, interesting effects, such as flashing lights and frothing saliva—a fancy high-quality college production that I highly recommend.

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