Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Dark and brooding and compelling


Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , Sherman Cymru, Cardiff , June-01-08
Macbeth by Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama The last performance I attended was the much acclaimed Black Watch by the National Theatre of Scotland. The play has been a world-wide success, commanding big audiences everywhere. As a play, fitting the fashion of the times, it was designed to be staged outside a theatrical environment. It sat well in the metallic barn-like structure of the Ebbw Vale Leisure Centre. Over the years I have seen many productions in what we used to call the Sherman Arena. At this production I was struck, as I have been many times before, by what a wonderfully adaptable, strong, as gritty as any leisure centre, yet intimate theatre space we have here. Matthew Hellyer’s set design so well served both the space and the play: it might have grown mysteriously out of the ground.

Holinshed’s Macbeth, on whom Shakespeare’s play was based, lived a thousand years ago. They were barbaric times. In Martin Houghton’s dark and brooding compelling production we are in times of black-art and the savage destructive powers of human ambition, where harpies suck the blood from battle scarred corpses and scavenge for severed body parts. The witches, soaked in depravity, Amy Morgan, Annette Chown and Amelia Gildea become the moving sprit of the play. As they drop their torn sack-cloth garments, revealing more seductive dress, they take up dialogue of other characters in the play permeating their debauched being into everyone they touch.

Macbeth, a spirited and intelligent performance from Adam Redmore, tells his wife how, as the witches had predicted, King Duncan would reward him for his part in the war and they also foretold that Macbeth would become king but added the disturbing prediction that Banquo should father a line of kings. It so happens that Duncan is spending the night with Macbeth. His wife moves to grab this opportunity to make the witches’ prophesy come true. Manon Wilkinson gives a very moving performance, from this unprepossessing small body comes a stream of ever-increasing evil ambition that almost overwhelms. She takes the bloody daggers from the reluctant Macbeth, framing the king’s servants by planting the dripping blades on them. When Lennox, Macduff et al discover the corpse, in feigned anger Macbeth kills the servants, he broods on the witches prediction that Banquo would be the progenitor of kings, he see the tide turn against him. The witches again assert their demonical spirit over him. He has Banquo murdered and sees that Lady Macduff, a brief but telling performance from Eileen O’Higgins, and all her children are slain.

This scene has a very strong climax where we are exposed to the greatest possible extent of human depravity to which man could possible sink. Although totally in keeping with the sad and bloody mood of the play I am forced to wonder if by showing us so graphically the child being so viciously ripped from this gentle female’s womb, Houghton wasn’t pushing his cast and the audience one step too far.

Lady Macbeth, now wrought with guilt, goes mad and sleepwalks on her belly. Macduff’s knife tears at the throat of Macbeth and we hear gouts of his blood fall heavily to the floor.
The moral point has been forcefully made and made all the stronger by the extraordinary vitality and drive of this enthusiastic young cast. They weren’t perfect; at times the strength of their emotion undermined their physical control. They did capture the poetry exceedingly well but words and rhythm were lost in an attempt to be over colloquial. Nevertheless Martin Houghton and his cast took us well into the body of this great tragedy if not deep into its soul.

One thousand years on, I can only conclude that we must be grateful for the invention of the rifle, at least it kills cleanly and instantaneously. Though we know that the savagery of Macbeth’s time is still so sadly around us today.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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