This production of Macbeth is visually rewarding. Prior knowledge of the story is desirable to enhance the enjoyment of the play.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.
This Macbeth is a promenade production set in the gardens and body of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden. St Paul’s is known as ‘The Actors’ Church’ as its West End location has fostered long and close ties to the acting world. Iris Theatre have been performing at St Paul’s Church since it’s first production in 2007; this is their 10th anniversary year.
Being so close to the thrust and parry of swordplay is exciting. The play begins in the garden with the action played in traverse formation and the combatants are a scant few feet away. All bodes well for an immersive experience.
Then the three witches appear and the audience is treated to a fusion of fairly traditionally styled Macbeth with a Star Wars looking trio. This would be fabulous except that the headgear of two of the witches drastically impedes the projection of their voices. In an outdoor setting without amplification this is a problem.
That negative note is the only one for the design of the show. The remainder is breathtaking in its inception and execution. The costumes by Anne Sances work well with the actors and support the play. It’s obvious that a lot of thought has produced a series of costumes for quick changes of character for the small ensemble cast.
However it is the set design of Alice Channon that dominates this production. It shines particularly with the help of strong lighting design by Benjamin Polya. As the action travels through the outdoor spaces, Channon has clothed trees and nooks with a plethora of innovative stuff to fashion astounding settings.
One such piece is the tree house in Act Two that at first holds the witches’ cauldron. Cleverly designed, with lycra inserts in the tree covering which are used to haunt and taunt Macbeth. The tree house then becomes the house of horror for Lady MacDuff. It works brilliantly.
Inside the church, the space is dominated by a large wooden throne in front of scenic art derived from portions of The Garden of Earthly Delights attributed to Hieronymus Bosch. This 14th Century artwork features a hellscape: a world where humankind has succumbed to the temptations of evil and is reaping the consequences of eternal damnation. It’s an apt choice. The scenic artist is Valentina Turtur who headed a large group of assistants to execute the design.
Lastly Filipe Gomes has given the production an evocative sound design including music of his own composition. The sound effectively heralds royalty and evil. It works particularly well within the church although the voices are sometimes overcome by the sounds of doom.
Daniel Winder has crafted his production of Macbeth with a sweeping directorial hand. The narrative flows with purpose and overcomes the pitfalls of the promenading audience as well as can be expected. The main problem with this is to get the large body of people through inadequately sized doorways and settled for action to begin.
Of the cast, the two ladies shine the brightest. As Lady MacDuff, Jenny Horsthuis is superb and totally commits to the horror of her death. However it is Mogali Masuku who embraces her characters most fully. Masuku is making her professional debut. Playing Lady Macbeth as well as a Witch, MacDuff’s daughter and the Captain’s son in the final scenes is a huge undertaking.
David Hywel-Baynes returns to this company in the title role. His Macbeth comes into his strength in the final scenes. Until then Hywel-Baynes plays him as an out-of-control madman.
The rest of the male cast become lost among a multitude of dual roles and there is insufficient change between the characters to be able to clearly identify who is whom at any given point in time.
Generally speaking, this production of Shakespeare has too much recitation of lines without depth of meaning. This makes the action difficult to follow and is not in line with the more contemporary productions that present the iambic pentameter as conversation.
However this Macbeth is very interesting for its location and design and audiences, particularly those well versed in the genre, will appreciate it.