The Attic Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 30th March 2022
This production by Tread The Boards takes a traditional approach, with splendid medieval costumes conveying the historical period, although with the Northern English accents, it’s less Glamis Castle and more Winterfell. But at least there’s consistency, creating the world-of-the-play most effectively. The action plays out against a huge map of Scotland, which has been torn — symbolising the political climate of the story.
Judicious use of sound design (courtesy of the brilliant Elliott Wallis) makes the intimate Attic Theatre space feel larger. The sounds of hurly-burly surround us. Cast members running around and fighting put us right in the action. Enter Three Witches… This ragtag trio engender an otherworldliness, even though they could pass for mortal women – their eye-of-newt scene later on is horrible, as they place the disgusting ingredients in their cauldron. The Witches also double as other characters: servants, messengers, giving them a direct hand in the unfolding doom of their victim. Witch 2 (Sally Hyde Lomax) doubles as the Porter, bringing much-needed comic relief to the tense scenes surrounding the murder of Duncan. Witch 3 (Clara Lane) makes a sympathetic Lady Macduff, while Sarah Feltham’s Witch 1, the twitchy one, offers support in a string of minor roles. The impression is given that the Witches are more directly involved in Macbeth’s downfall than we might have thought.
Speak of the devil. Daniel Wilby’s Macbeth is a credible warrior (some Macbeths I’ve seen aren’t!) and his conversion to the dark side, while a little speedy, is also believable. Wilby is at his strongest in the scenes where Macbeth unravels – the banqueting scene is especially powerful – and his portrayal of a man under immense stress, with violent outbursts, is captivating.
He is more than matched by Alexandra Whitworth, who is quite simply the best Lady Macbeth I have seen. The steely-eyed wickedness, the growing sense of isolation, the mental breakdown… all played to perfection. Whitworth brings out the character’s humanity. She is so much more than a wicked woman who can’t cope with the consequences of her actions.
Honestly, this is a truly excellent cast. Phil Leach’s King Duncan exudes kindness without losing any of his regal status; Ben Armitage’s Malcolm is superb – like Macduff, we take him at his word. Armitage gives the boy king assuredness; he is definitely this Duncan’s son. Pete Meredith’s Banquo goes from brave and noble best mate to terrifying apparition. A versatile actor, Meredith later appears as the doctor – the contrast couldn’t be greater. John-Robert Partridge’s forthright Macduff is thoroughly righteous and decent. Partridge’s rich speaking voice is a pleasure to hear, and you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.
There is strong support from the likes of Tom Lane’s Lennox, Edward Manning’s Ross, and Patrick Large as Seyton. Everyone handles the language with clarity and understanding. John-Robert Partridge’s direction gets everything right, the supernatural bits are unnerving, the action scenes are exciting – the climactic swordfight between Macs Duff and Beth is thrilling – making the confines of the performance space seem large enough to contain this story of a nation in upheaval, while yet intimate enough to chart the decline of our tragic hero. Partridge doesn’t clutter the stage (there’s no room) but lets Shakespeare’s text do the donkey work, ensuring that this superlative cast deliver the time-worn words with truth, ease and freshness.
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆