Watermill’s Macbeth for the modern age
‘This beguiling three-hander switches spells for songs and swords for guitars, as the gifted cast create theatrical magic from the simplest selection of props and costumes, often using music as an extension of character and intention,’ The Watermill’s Macbeth reviewed by TONY TRIGWELL-JONES
Macbeth, at The Watermill, Bagnor, from Tuesday, October 31, to Saturday, November 4, then on tour.
WITH so many iconic speeches, and legendary performances, Macbeth is arguably something of a Shakespearean ‘Greatest Hits’ album.
The timeless tale of greed and ambition, fate and magic has been reinvented on stage and in film countless times, with many creative interpretations seeking to find contemporary relevance in the 400-year-old text.
Abigail-Pickard Price’s excellent, stripped-back gig-theatre adaptation for The Watermill riffs on the long history of the Scottish Play, with the spirit dolls of previous Macbeths hung around a frame – to which they add their latest victim.
This beguiling three-hander switches spells for songs and swords for guitars, as the gifted cast create theatrical magic from the simplest selection of props and costumes, often using music as an extension of character and intention.
The young trio brought a degree of naivete to the story, with Thuliswa Magwaza’s Lady Macbeth appearing playfully nonchalant about driving her husband’s bloody rise to fame, until finally the guilt catches up with her in Act 5.
The moment here was prefaced by a song I couldn’t place, but Magwaza’s incredible vocal delivery was so utterly compelling that many in the audience were seen to visibly lean forward.
Once we were under her spell, she held us for the duration of what for me was one of the stand-out performances of the evening.
Liam Bull brought out the kind-hearted aspects of both Banquo and Macduff, the former seeming somewhat goofy and trusting, an interpretation that worked well and brought some levity.
His Macduff was, likewise, a more gentle character than I have seen previously, but this cleverly served to emphasise his heartbreak at the slaughter of his family – sparking a need for vengeance inspired by sadness, rather than anger.
Also surprising in the best possible way was Jimmy Chambers’ Macbeth, a wiry, almost cowardly tyrant whose steady descent into madness was perfectly emphasised through contrasting renditions of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon.
Chambers’ consistently excellent performance showed an instinct for Shakespeare’s poetic language, making it entirely accessible, while exposing the narrative that Macbeth is powerless to the fates that draw him to his desperate end.
Very much the fourth performer on stage, Thom Townsend’s exceptional sound design combined well chosen popular songs, atmospheric original compositions (by the cast) and microphone effects to create a powerful sonic aspect that enriched the production further.
Vibrant, diverse and innovative, this sensitive adaptation by Pickard-Price, is truly a Macbeth for the modern age.
Be sure to catch it on tour today (Saturday) Bradfield Village Hall, Shrivenham Memorial Hall (November 17) and Brill Memorial Hall (November 18).