Macbeth

Sat 17th – Wed 21st March 2012

reviews

Anna Last

at 01:27 on 19th Mar 2012

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Macbeth is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare's finest plays; the supernatural revenge tragedy will never cease to be popular. Needless to say, the frequency with which it is put on stage can result in exhausted, predictable and relatively boring productions. However, I'm pleased to say that University of Bristol students, Katie Pesskin and Frankie Wakefield, did an utterly fantastic job in creating and directing an original and fresh version of Macbeth, set in the unnerving atmosphere of World War 2. As the first theatrical performance to be held in the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, everything from the location, the concept, the audience interaction and the [majority of] acting was first class. I left the theatre feeling excited, overwhelmed and marginally disturbed - a telling sign of a successful Macbeth production.

The theatrical space set the play up for success from the moment you entered the museum. The building was grand and relatively intimidating and the original location identified the production as unique. It also, however, set the task of using the mass of space successfully; it would have been a shame for the cast not to. This was undoubtedly my favourite aspect of the production. As soon as you entered the building, you were led into a hall where three desks were set out with old fashioned type-writers. I was nervously talking to other audience members when the lights suddenly went down and the sound of a war siren signified the beginning of the play. The three weird sisters then performed the opening scene, after which they led the audience through to the stage space. The first scene was completely terrifying (most audience members had to hold hands...) and an extremely powerful opening to the play. By no means were the succeeding scenes a disappointment, but the opening scene was undoubtedly the peak moment of the production for me. The stage space was used to its optimum throughout the production, with the cast moving through the audience, appearing from all areas and tiering themselves from three balconies.

The standard of acting in the play was extremely high, with particularly flawless performances from Nick Finegan and Rosalind Russell as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The entire cast were dedicated to their roles and also worked extremely well together. My only criticism would be a tendency to rush and shout lines. This is always a problem with Shakespeare, but the acoustics of the museum also meant that some lines were completely lost and buried with echoes. I became excited each time the three sisters entered the stage; they were completely disturbing. One problem arose because Rosalind Russell played both Lady Macbeth and the First Weird Sister, and her first transition between characters was unclear and confusing. Perhaps two such important and large roles should have been separated. Ed Phillips pleasantly surprised me with his phenomenal acting as Macduff, changing from a relatively passive performance of character, to that of a heartbreaking, touching one - upon discovering the murder of his wife and children. However, his role as both Macduff and Macduff's son seemed a bit illogical...

The concept of 1940's world war 2 revitalised the play; it was both fun and terrifying. The glamorous music contrasted to the eerie sounds of the war alarm created a tense setting. The costumes were appropriate; simple but creative and the use of a radio as the sister's cauldron was a very successful stylistic approach that modernised the play.

Unfortunately a couple of scenes tended to drag when lines were rushed and hard to hear. This wasn't helped by the shape of the room, but slower and clearer articulation would have helped in some cases. The play in general was long, without a break, but perhaps an interval would have distracted from the tense atmosphere of the play in general. However, that is my only (petty) criticism of an otherwise brilliant production. I was mesmerised by the acting - Lady Macbeth in particular - and greatly enjoyed the intimidating audience interaction. I would recommend to all theatre lovers (Shakespeare fan or not).

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Marleigh Price

at 02:25 on 19th Mar 2012

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Arriving at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery alone on a quiet Sunday night, I had no idea of what to expect from a performance in the vast and beautiful building. The darkened museum was a dramatic and imposing welcome to a play that lived up in every way to its epic surroundings.

As the first play to ever be performed in the museum, the ‘As Told By’ directors of Macbeth went to great lengths to utilise the incredible space available to them. Since I’m loath to spoil the surprise of the play’s opening, as its unexpectedness was what made it so successful, I’ll limit myself by saying that the opening scene seized the audience by the throats and ensured that we were captivated for the next two hours. The use of the multiple levels provided by the second hall of the museum could almost have been a custom made set, so effective was it in providing an imposing stage on which the drama unfolded. By having characters entering from every angle, running among us as well as above and in front of us, we as an audience were constantly kept on our toes in eager anticipation of what was to happen next. The only downside to the dramatic surroundings was that the high ceilings provided a great deal of echo. Whilst this was immensely powerful in enhancing the tension in some of the characters, notably in Ed Phillips as Macduff's display of grief at the loss of his family, the higher-pitched voices among the cast were occasionally lost to the acoustics of the building.

I initially had my doubts about the suitability of Nick Finegan as the fierce warrior of Macbeth; at his initial entrance I felt that this was a man made to play the introverted, scholarly Hamlet rather than the greedy and ambitious Macbeth. As the play progressed however, I realised how wrong I had been. His command over the play’s language, along with a disturbingly convincing portrayal of a man rapidly losing his hold on sanity, made for a truly captivating performance. Finegan provided the perfect pairing to Rosalind Russell’s Lady Macbeth, and for me, the play was hers. Cleverly cast as both Lady Macbeth and the ringleader of the Weird Sisters, she played both roles with a chilling callousness and malevolence. Russell’s portrayal of the ambitious and unmerciful queen left me eagerly anticipating her return to the stage, and her unnerving presentation of Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness demonstrated her fluidity as an actress. The use of red in each of Lady Macbeth’s costumes, all the way down to her red-lacquered talons, enhanced the sense of her as a bloodthirsty villain. Indeed, all of the play’s costumes were effective; the impeccable army uniforms worn throughout by the male characters provided a subtle reminder of the political unease and the threat of war that lurks just beneath the play’s surface.

The decision to set the play during the Second World War was an interesting one; the sound effects of planes flying overhead and dropping bombs added to the tension, and the transformation of the witch’s cauldron into an old fashioned radio filled with the voices of prophetic spirits was incredibly inventive. Having the Weird Sisters dressed in overalls and silk-scarf turbans invoked images of the ‘We Can Do It’ posters of the era, and made for a disturbingly oxymoronic sense of the witches as being both an invaluable part of the war effort and destructive creatures keen to utilise their knowledge in order to bring about devastation and despair. Rosalind Russell, Eleanor Henderson and Rose Lucas were a perfect ensemble in the roles of the witches and their departure offstage, accompanied each time with wicked cackles was deeply unnerving.

With a strong cast and an incredible setting, the ‘As Told By’ production of Macbeth is a unique and powerful performance of one of Shakespeare’s best tragedies and one that really ought not to be missed.

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