Adam Karim, Phoebe Sparrow and Paul Tinto in Macbeth
Macbeth, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Derby Theatre, and tour9:17, 20th February 2020
In the opening moments of Macbeth at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, a young lad becomes caught up in the clansmen’s battle, looking for his escaped kite. Moments later, we see one of the witches keening over his lifeless body, and director Douglas Rintoul gives us a clear motivation for the havoc they go on to wreak in the life of the man whose battle killed this innocent civilian.
This moment, which launches an urgent, high-stakes production, is really the only deviation from the straightforward demands of Shakespeare’s text, but would give a student audience fodder for classroom discussion about the motivations in the play, and about themes of arrogance and scant respect for consequences on the part of people in power, alongside the classic theme of ambition. It gives what is a 10th Century production of the play a contemporary edge by setting aside a little the idea that the witches are ‘real’ supernatural beings, causing mischief for mischief’s sake, and reminding us that even in the modern world, lowly and marginalised common people rebel in whatever ways they can against mistreatment on the part of the authorities.
Rintoul’s production has been pitched partly at schools. A co-production with Derby Theatre, and off there next – from 3-14 March – it has while in Hornchurch given several schools-only performances, and there are many things to recommend it to students. Not a word goes unheard: diction is clear and motivated from every member of the cast, and some of the performances are really excellent – Macbeth himself (Paul Tinto) is every inch the soldier but also in the early stages vulnerable when wracked with doubt about his wife’s plan of action. Phoebe Sparrow as Lady Macbeth drives the murder plot with absolute conviction, but her slow-dawning horror is palpable when control of her husband’s sanity and, more importantly, their love and partnership, begins to slip through her fingers, and her sleepwalking scene is a quietly beautiful moment of sadness in the maelstrom of the end of the play. Other strong performances include Daniel Kendrick as Seyton, whom we really warm to as his master’s actions become ever more erratic and it becomes clear that he is firmly on the wrong side in the final war.
The design in this production offers a great deal for inspiration and evaluation – lighting is used by Daniella Beattie to great effect with a backlit screen which allows battles and murders to happen in-sight while offstage, and the costumes are evocative without being ridiculous: chainmail (admittedly quite noisy to move about in) features heavily but helps to highlight the warlike nature of this society, particularly when worn by the queen as well as the king at their coronation.
There are a few isolated clumsy moments: the banquet at which Banquo’s ghost appears is hailed by a scene-change involving a table cloth used to screen the exit of his murdered body, and is then sparse in guests, who appear to be listening to all of Macbeth’s asides and private conversations. However in all this is a really excellent production and would be well worth a trip with a student group while it is in Derby, Ipswich (New Wolsey Theatre, 17 – 23 March), or Perth (Theatre Horsecross, 31 March – 4 April).