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Macbeth (Susan Elkin reviews)

society/company: Orange Tree Theatre
performance date: 18 Feb 2019
venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Photo: Ali Wright


Abdridged by Imogen Bond and Nathan Powell (who also directs) to 90 minutes without interval, this very decent Macbeth is part of Orange Tree Theatre’s Shakespeare Up Close initiative. It is aimed directly at a younger audience and it was a delight to see it, on the first day of half term, alongside lots of families and young people of various ages. After this week it will tour secondary schools and be seem by 4,000 students.

It uses a company of five actors plus a ‘DJ’ (Conrad Kira) who takes minor speaking parts as well as managing the sound track he has designed. The sound is arresting, evocative and atmospheric complete with appropriate weird shrieks, menacing whines and grating sound which connotes mental breakdown. It’s impressive work.

There are some nice imaginative directorial touches. Malcolm speaks to Donalbain on his phone (who needs a full company of actors?) and one of the guests phone-films Macbeth’s horror at the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. And although I’ve probably seen more productions of Macbeth than of any other play and taught it to thousands of English Literature students, it had never occurred to me before that you don’t actually need the Macduff family murder scene which Bond and Powell cut. Macbeth announces that he’s going to do it and we see Macduff’s reaction to the news that his entire household has been massacred – so there it is firmly in the plot without enactment. I also liked the concept of four cast members standing in the corners of the playing area each proffering a dagger by its handle, but withholding it, during the “Is this a dagger I see before me?” speech.

Montel Douglas is outstanding as McDuff getting the anger and anguish just right and Marc Benga’s Macbeth does well in suggesting that he really is possessed. He holds his head and moans very plausibly. He’s also strong in the early scenes with Lady Macbeth (Tamara Camacho). The witches here become curious creatures of the street complete with a shopping trolley full of nasty things. Their act IV prophecy scene is scarily effective.

So it’s a Macbeth with a lot to commend it although I felt that more attention could have been paid to verse speaking. Presumably in an attempt to engage the Netflix generation a lot of the dialogue is a bit gabbled. Of course it shouldn’t be declamatory or reverential but neither should it be so rushed that it sounds breathy and thrown away.

Photo: Ali Wright

 First published by Sardines:
Author information
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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