Macbeth

Mon 13th – Mon 20th February 2012

reviews

Rebecca Loxton

at 00:24 on 14th Feb 2012

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The newly-created Mansfield Drama Society (only in its second term of existence) has produced a very slick version of Shakespeare’s 'Macbeth.'

The cast led the handful of audience members (presumably limited due to restrictions on space) through the college as the audience quite literally follows the action of the play.

The performance begins to the sound of bagpipes ringing out in the college’s central quad, as audience members are led from the Lodge to assemble in a semi-circle on the expanse of grass encircled by the glorious backdrop of Mansfield College; its stained glass chapel windows are visible in the background, while light from rooms in the colleges throws a glow on the three witches at the point of focus in the semi-circle and adds to the eerie light of torches held by cast members. Dressed in hooded black cloaks, the actors weave their way in and out of the audience as they deliver the Bard’s dialogue. The opening is incredibly atmospheric, and promises an exciting, fresh version of the Scottish play.

Macbeth’s hallucinatory vision of Banquo’s ghost is played out in the college’s Hall, its medieval stone windows and candle-lit dining-room framing the action and serving to amplify the play’s dramatic effect. Audience members are also installed on a couple of occasions in the college’s Middle Common Room, which, lit by tea-lights, provides the stage for Macbeth’s soliloquy as he perceives the danger before him. The audience observes Lady Macbeth’s breakdown in the chilly corridors, as she kneels on the stone floor dressed in white nightgown, desperately scrubbing her hands clean. The frequent changing of scene adds an original dimension to the script.

Macbeth, and many of the other cast members, are played by female actresses but this does not detract from the credulity of their performances. Bethany White gives a particularly accomplished performance as Macbeth. Nor do a couple of instances of stumbling over lines make this play any less worthy of acclaim.

Towards the end of the play, in an ingenious design quirk the audience members are all presented with a small branch to represent the wood in which the final battle will take place. The audience is then led from college to chapel to observe the final scene of this talented production, again accompanied by the music of the bagpipes.

In conclusion, Mansfield College Drama Society have pulled off a fine production and if you fancy a bit of interaction served on the side of your Shakespeare, this play is most definitely worth a watch. It's haunting, unusual, exciting, and not to be missed.

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Karl Dando

at 10:06 on 14th Feb 2012

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1disagrees

There's charm in the ambition of this production: the Mansfield Dramatic Society, founded just last term, has taken their college for a stage, mounting a production that moves from quad to corridor as we quite literally follow the rise and fall of one of Shakespeare's bleakest tragedies. This billed 'interactivity' is somewhat successful: the well-manicured lawn of the College quad doesn't quite work as a wild and witch-populated heath, but the scenes of intrigue and conspiracy play well in the chill stone corridor, where steps echo and whispers carry. This unusual staging unfortunately scuppers somewhat the pace and rhythm of the piece, as scenes are punctuated by the audience wandering from room to room, prompted by an invented Narrator character's cod-Shakespearean summaries, and though the aim is clearly for a deeper intertwining of the audience with the action, the principle is not pursued fully enough for us to be much more than poorly-hidden voyeurs. There are some particularly nice moments, such as when each audience member is given a branch to hold in the final act, and so we there do actually become a part of the production as the marching forest. Likewise our sharing in the banquet scene, played out in the college's Hall, where we sit amongst other guests, though that example illustrates well a difficulty of the method: when the guests are dismissed by Lady Macbeth we, obviously, remain, destroying the illusion of us being present in the action. It is not so much a violation of the fourth wall, since this production often seeks to deny one in the first place, rather the unfortunate reestablishment of it. "Macbeth," perhaps, is not the best choice of Shakespeare's works to approach in this way, but I'd encourage the cast and crew to embrace their methods more fully, because when it works – Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's pre- and post-murder talks happening in the gloomy intimacy of the college's Tower Room, for example – it really does work well.

The acting is as much a mix of successes. In general, there was a clear sense of first-night (and, for many of the cast, first-ever-performance) reserve, with a fair few of the cast appearing stiff in voice and gesture. The meeting with the witches, for instance, might have compensated for its counterproductive setting with a little more dynamism of movement from the actors. Macbeth himself, played by Bethany White, is an interesting prospect: never particularly sympathetic, but pitiably attractive somehow nonetheless: presented first as a kind of swaggering schoolboy, and ending up, in his desperate last moments, as something reminiscent of Queenie from "Blackadder" (and I mean that as an absolute compliment). Amy Dutton's Lady Macbeth is fantastic, certainly the highlight of the production: a rictor-grinning desperate housewife, all middle-class skittishness and bubbling mania. I'm almost tempted to give an extra star for her performance alone. Given that the production is free, and the newly formed Society needs all the support it can get so as to continue for the years to come, I would, though it's not an entirely successful "Macbeth," urge you to attend. The novelties of the largely female cast and interesting staging spark new colours in the play, and Shakespeare, of course, remains Shakespeare. The ambition of the cast and crew, whatever their success, is to be applauded here, and if only for the opportunity for more like Amy Dutton to be given an opportunity to perform, I hope Mansfield continue to indulge that ambition as best they can. All in all, a charming, if flawed, attempt.

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Comments

propa thesp; 14th Feb 2012; 12:29:43

What this production lacked in funds it certainly made up for in raw talent and creativity. Best show I've seen in ages. Bethany White was a truly menacing Macbeth , while Amy Dutton gave a highly convincing performance as a troubled Lady Macbeth. Emily Feltham's MacDuff was also very impassioned.The star of the show, however, was certainly Joanna Williams' Third Witch, whose ability to sit with her leg over her head for several minutes without flinching was unparalleled by nothing else.

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