‘Macbeth’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by September 11, 2017

‘Macbeth’ is one of William Shakespeare’s finest tragedies, based upon a real-life King of Scotland as portrayed in Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), – a history of England, Scotland, and Ireland – combined with the works of Scottish historian George Buchanan who wrote in Latin, ‘Rerum Scoticarum Historia’ (‘A History of Scotland’). The later matches Shakespeare’s version more closely. Written sometime after 1599, the play was first performed in 1606.

Incidentally, King Malcolm lll – the King in this play – was killed 200 metres from Alnwick Castle in Northumberland where Harry Potter was filmed.

This two and a half hour performance is can be seen at the comfortable, Roleystone Theatre, 587 Brookton Highway, Roleystone each evening at 8.00 pm until Saturday 9th September.

In the theatre world, many believe that the play is cursed, and will not speak its title aloud, referring to it instead as ‘The Scottish Play’.

 

The set design by Paul Treasure and Ellie Vance showed at the side of the stage a contemporary sitting room, with a rocking chair and a tea trolley. Later the gauze curtain across the stage rises to show a symbolic set of a castle staircase and two of the Callanish standing stones.

The props were supplied by the stage manager, Kathryn Ramsell, and the costumes by Penny Ramsell. As kilts would have just been invented a few years before ‘Macbeth’ was written, some of the actors correctly wore belted plaids. This a length of material wound around the waist – with no pleats – and then the remaining plaid is thrown over the shoulder. Well done Penny. Julia Taylor dressed Lady Macbeth in beautiful gowns with sashes.

Hairdresser, Jess Taylor presented the rugged hair look, and Yvette Drager-Wetherilt designed the threatening makeup. The facial blue woad was a dye originally sourced from the woad plant.

Shannon Allender operated Ellie Vance’s lighting design.

Having seen ‘Macbeth’ possibly a dozen times, to please me, this show had to have a complete cast of outstanding actors or an interesting off beat approach.

 

       The auditorium lights dim, and the title ‘Macbeth’, in blood red, is projected onto the gauze stage divide. A singer (Sherryl Spencer) walks across the auditorium, in front of the stage, melodiously singing an old tune ‘in the Gaelic’ (a great idea, and for me one of the highlights of the show).

       An old crone (Penny Ramsell) rocked in her chair, whilst a young Goth maiden (Nicquelle Rhodes) sat on the floor, and the Mother (Bonnie Rae Bruce) poured out the tea. The three cackled, they were trying to decide whom to place their next magic curse upon. The crone inverted her teacup, turned it around on the saucer, and then read the tealeaves – it was to be a local lord, Macbeth (Joel Sammels).

       King Duncan of Scotland (Kim Martin) and his elder son, Malcolm (Grant Malcolm) joyfully receive the news that Macbeth and Banquo (Sam Barnett) have just defeated the Norwegians and Irish – and unknowingly, the Thane of Cawdor.

      As Macbeth and Banquo journey home through rain and thunder, they meet the three sisters who tell Macbeth of his future, and the titles that he will have trust upon him – including King. Shortly after, the Thane of Ross (Brianna Dunn) tells Macbeth that he – Macbeth – has just become Thane of Cawdor.

       On arriving home in Inverness, Macbeth tells his wife, Lady Macbeth (Melinda Sklenars) about the witches, and how part of their prophecy has already come true. Dismissing Lady Macbeth’s gentlewoman (Sarah Thillagaratnam), Lady Macbeth is excited and tells her husband he is obviously empowered to go and kill King Duncan. Duncan’s body being discovered next morning by Lennox (Andre Victor) and Lord Macduff, Thane of Fife (Simon Hands. A Thane was an Earl, who managed land on behalf of the Royalty). Fearing they will be next, the king’s two sons, Malcolm and Donalbain (Ben Small) flee.

        Macbeth asks Banquo and his son, Fleance (Felix Malcolm) to get rid of any opposition, however, Banquo has high standards and only promises to help only if his conscience is left clear. Seyton (Sherryl Spencer), Macbeth’s loyal armourer and instigator, agrees to carry out Macbeth’s every whim (‘Seyton’ is Shakespeare’s ‘Satan’ of the play). When it comes down to the actual killing, Lady Macbeth is enthusiastic, however afterwards she shares the same guilt and conscience as her husband.

       When Macbeth learns that Banquo and Fleance are about to abandon him, Macbeth hires two murderers (Ellie Vance and Tamika Shaw Ngai) to dispatch his two friends. Banquo dies, but Fleance escapes. Then, when Lennox tells Macbeth that Macduff has also fled, having gone to England to join Young Siward (Ellie Vance), Earl of Northumbria, who is his father’s representative in Scotland; Siward, the elder (Patrick Berry), being head of the English troops. In a panic, Macbeth has the two killers murder Lady Macduff (Bree Hartley) and her son (Lawson Sweetman).

       Will all of these killings ensure Macbeth’s success? Surely, with Banquo out of the way, Macbeth will have no one to trouble his integrity.

 

In this unusual version, certainly not for the purists, was conceived by director Paul Treasure, there were several variations in the chronology, from 12th Century, Scotland costumes, to the present-day doctors in white coats and spectacles; and yet this miss match seemed to work well. Even the modern-day witches were successful, with Maiden even having the power to raise corpses from the dead.

The numerous and convincing fight sequences were fought, under the instruction of Ron Birch, using his swords and daggers. The actors were well trained and threatening, however many of the cast spoke solely in the upper vocal register when a few low passages would have been quite effective in an argument.

The actors’ diction was clear with good projection, but with complex Shakespearean text and couplets, to get the full appreciation and richness of the story, it is best delivered with a style as though explaining something to a child. Although many of the actors were very good, Grant Malcolm, Sherryl Spencer, Sam Barnett, and Joel Sammels had exceptional delivery.

Director Paul had a large cast to handle, but the chemistry worked well and movement around the stage was smooth. By using the auditorium, emergency exits as well as the stage wings, made it appears the actors were leaving for different destinations.

With full houses most nights, the popularity and success of the show speaks for itself.