There are times when I wonder if Shakespeare hasn’t been done, rather like many of his characters, done to death. For example, I was in two minds about going all the way to the Greenwich Theatre for my fifth or sixth Macbeth. But, as it was the Lazarus Theatre Company producing the show, and I’ve liked their staging of classical works in the past, I thought I’d give it a go.
The show starts, rather unusually, with the coronation of Duncan (Luke Ward-Wilkinson) as King of Scotland. Interestingly, the music used for the coronation is Handel’s Zadok the Priest, which is one of my favourite pieces of music, but I digress. The coronation is attended by Duncan’s thanes and kinsmen including Macbeth (Jamie O’Neill) Thane of Glamis, and his closest companion General Banquo (Lewis Davidson). The action moves to the war between King Duncan and the allied forces of Norway and Ireland, who, led by the traitorous MacDonwald, and Thane of Cawdor. After Macbeth and Duncan defeat the king’s enemies, they meet the Weird Sisters (Cameron Nelson, David Clayton and Hamish Somers) who make various prophecies regarding the two men, the most important of which is that Macbeth will become King of Scotland and that while Banquo will not, his sons will also become kings. With the enemy defeated, the first of the prophecies is fulfilled as Duncan names Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Buoyed on by this, Macbeth, spurred on by his ambitious wife (Alice Emery) starts to contemplate the rest of the prophecy – him being king of Scotland. Fortunately, fate plays into the Macbeth’s hands as, after proclaiming his eldest son Malcolm (Fred Thomas) as his heir apparent, Duncan decides to spend the night at Macbeth’s castle. This starts a chain of events culminating in a bloody war that tears Scotland apart.
As is normal with a Lazarus production, This production of Macbeth is something out of the ordinary. For a start, everyone is very smartly suited in a contemporary style, with large trench coats taking on the role of armour. The set is pretty much non-existent, no backdrop, some chairs and a dining area right at the back – more of that later. The text, adapted by Ricky Dukes, who also directs, is pretty standard but with some alterations that, in my opinion, actually help the pacing of the story. For example, Lady Macduff (Darcy Willison) is pregnant and talks to her bump, rather than any children, when Macbeth attacks the castle which moves a scene that I have always found to be a bit of a plodder, along nicely without losing the horror of Macbeth’s actions. I liked the weird sisters but, there were problems in the second act when, for some reason not really explained, they wore gas masks which, even with the aid of microphones made their dialogue difficult to hear.
And speaking of hearing, there was definitely an issue with sound. None of the actors wore microphones and there were times, particularly during banquets, where it was difficult to clearly hear characters sitting facing away from the audience right at the back of the stage where the dining area was. If this was a problem for us near the front then it could potentially be really bad for audience members further back. Otherwise, the sound and lighting were pretty good though someone needs to have a word about the amount of smoke and haze on stage. At times it was a bit like looking through an old London Pea-Souper.
My companion on the night and I had a long discussion afterwards about the production and about the character of Macbeth himself in the way he was portrayed. I have to admit, this production did make me see him in a different way to others. I have always previously seen Macbeth as an ambitious man ready to do anything for power, but with this show, I think he is more of a victim. He is actually quite a puny man, who is very easy to manipulate. Looking at Macbeth and Banquo together, it struck me that maybe Macbeth was credited for victories that were actually Banquo’s. The two men, as portrayed are both physically fit, but of the two Banquo was muscular with, what felt like a soldier’s build. And, it was pretty obvious who wore the trousers in the Macbeth household when he and his wife were together. Lady Macbeth, in a stunning performance by Alice Emery, would do whatever it took – flirt, cajole, scream, intimidate – to push her husband to murder Duncan. It’s a shame that the character runs out of steam by the second act. I honestly believe that if she had still had all her faculties, Lady Macbeth would have ruled Scotland – in her husband’s name – far better than he did.
A problem with putting on Shakespeare is that most people that go already know the play. But, I believe, Lazarus has once again delivered a new take on an old classic that, for me at least, has caused a rethink of the play I thought I knew. At just over two hours, the production moves fast, keeps its audience absorbed and, as we discovered in the bar afterwards, gives you plenty to talk about.
Review by Terry Eastham
“When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
Victorious from a bloody battle the triumphant Macbeth is greeted by the three weird sisters. Inspired and driven by their incredible prophecies he sets out on the path to conquer all. A story of ambition, leadership and belief.
Shakespeare’s supernatural Macbeth bursts on to the stage in this epic new ensemble production and features as the first production in Lazarus’ third year as associate artists at Greenwich Theatre.
Cameron Nelson – Weird Sister / Donalbain / Doctor
David Clayton – Weird Sister / Macduff
Darcy Willison – Angus / Lady Macduff
Fred Thomas – Malcolm / Apparition
Hamish Somers – Captain / Weird Sister / Lennox
Jamie O’Neill – Macbeth
Lewis Davidson – Banquo / Apparition
Luke Ward-Wilkinson – Duncan / Apparition
Mikko Juan – Ross / Messenger / Doctor
Alice Emery – Lady Macbeth
Written by William Shakespeare
Adapted, Directed and Designed by Ricky Dukes
Lighting Design by Alex Musgrave
Sound Design by Phil Matejtschuk
Costume by Sorcha Corcoran
Dramaturge – Sophie Duntley
Stage Manager – Juliette Green
Assistant Director – Lata Nobes
Movement Captain – David Clayton
Company Photographer – Adam Trigg
Production Graphic Designer – Bobby Bowyer
Producer – Gavin Harrington-Odedra
26 FEB – 7 MAR 2020