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Macbeth (Susan Elkin reviews)

Alex Pearson Productions and Unfolds Theatre

Rose Playhouse

The real star of this engaging, 80-minute, six-hander Macbeth is the extraordinarily atmospheric venue. The Rose Playhouse dates from the 1590s and is now an archeological site beneath an office block. Volunteers and supporters are working hard to save and restore it. It’s been open to the public since the late 1990s and in recent years it has staged productions – so the spirit of theatre is alive and well there.

Imagine a vast, dark cave – the circular space of the original theatre. Its centre is covered by a few inches of water (to stop the foundations cracking) so with lights glinting and sweeping it looks like a vast spooky lake. Around the perimeter is a viewing gallery and a sort of “beach area”. The audience is seated on a wider gallery which is where most of the action takes place but the assassination of Banquo and the assembling of the English army takes place far away in the near darkness of the other side the “lake” with the sound echoing horrifyingly through the lofty space. Wow! I have rarely felt so immersed in, and convinced by, a play whose text I know almost by heart.

It’s quite a feat to bring it off with only six actors too but it works well with a lot of doubling and sharing the laughing (drunk? drugged?) witch’s roles – they wear androgynous hoodies so their identities are not an issue in this modern dress production which hints (mobile phones flashing etc) that social media play a part in Macbeth’s tragedy. And I smiled at Lady Macbeth (Esther Shanson) reading her husband’s letter as an email on her i-Pad.

Jesse Ayertey plays Macbeth in a broad West Indian accent – warm and decent at the very beginning, his voice sharpening as he descends into tyranny and madness. The whites of his eyes are powerfully evocative in the half darkness. Shanson glitters as Lady Macbeth – clearly deranged from the outset – and their scenes together are compelling. There’s fine work too from very versatile Ailis Duff as Banquo and other roles too.

All in all I’m impressed with Unfold’s Theatre and Alex Pearson’s imaginative direction. I might go back to see Love’s Labours Lost next month – it’s a very different sort of play and I’m intrigued as to what they’ll do with it in that space which seems “made” for murky tragedy.

 First published by Sardines:
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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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