Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Finesse by the truckload.


Dept.of Theatre Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , March-30-07
Macbeth by Dept.of Theatre Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University Richard Cheshire's production brought Shakespeare's great tragedy to life amid clouds of smoke, and the ritual pounding of war drums. The first two minutes grabbed the audience by the throat, as the wyrd sisters took the stage to deliver the opening lines. They were closely followed by a horde of screaming warriors, who charged onto the stage, to give the play the brutal reality that no production of Macbeth can survive without. If the first five minutes make the play, I was sold after the first three. And all this without seeing Macbeth.

When the audience saw him, there was no cause for disappointment. Henry Pickett's Macbeth had all the physical presence that was needed to show Macbeth The Warrior, but maintained the introspective edge that would later be needed to play Macbeth The Tortured Soul. His playing of this complex character, was perfectly reflected in his wife, played by Kate Edwards. Edwards played her with a mix of Machiavellian cynicism and hollow eyed sadness that gave a real sense of depth and duality to Lady Macbeth. Her characterisation was possibly the strongest in the production, cajoling and ordering Macbeth by turns.

Superb acting was also shown in the supporting roles. This ranged from the witches otherworldly and inhuman performance, a superb casting for Jennifer Woodhouse, Amy Ross and Gemma Rook, to the earthy humor of Tim Newms' hungover Porter. This review isn't long enough to catalogue all the actors who gave of their best, a fact made all the more impressive by the large number who played two or even three roles.

Ably played by this relatively small, but hugely talented cast, this production was already better than average, but factors other than the acting are also important. Great acting is useless without technical finesse. This play had finesse by the truckload.

This was obvious from the start in the costumes chosen. The production team chose a hybrid of the old and new, where the cast wore a mix of tartan and combat gear, and might carry a claymore in one hand and a perspex riot shield in the other. When Banquo calls for his sword, he is given a sword. When Macbeth calls for his armour, he is handed a flak jacket. This allowed the play to take on a timeless quality, connected with the past but allowing the audience to set it in whatever era they chose. Set design was sparing, avoiding cluttered staging and allowing for the scene to change quickly, while simple but effective music added to the scenes without overshadowing them.

However, possibly the best of all the production values was the lighting. Set at the sides of the stage, the lights were deployed to cast long shadows, perfectly capturing the dark mood of the play, and showing the audience only what they needed to see. A man with an active imagination, could have created his own nightmare world in those shadows. This is exactly what happened to Macbeth. Whenever soliloquies were called for, moody lighting helped the character to capture the audience.

Finally, the direction. The direction of Richard Cheshire, Graham Hill and Holly Mowbray-Brown, meshed perfectly with the fight choreography of Richard Taylor, to create a world in which Lady Macbeth's madness works on the same level as Alan Mehdizadeh's Banquo fighting his last fight. Whether it be a heart touching monologue, or open warfare erupting on stage, there was never any feeling of half-heartedness, or indeed of anything but total professionalism. All of the actors involved are still students. Although I don't have room to list all their names, I somehow doubt that we've heard the last of them.

Reviewed by: Alex j Gilbey

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