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Macbeth (Susan Elkin reviews)

William Shakespeare.
society/company: Chichester Festival Theatre
performance date: 27 Sep 2019
venue: Festival Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex PO19 6AP

Dervla Kirwan and John Simm in MACBETH at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan


Well, it’s good to see a Macbeth which starts on a blasted heath with three pretty sinister witches emerging from the rocks. I’ve seen plenty of versions of this play in which I’ve spent the first ten minutes wondering anxiously whether I’ve made a mistake and come to the wrong show. And what a heath! Simon Daw’s design gives us a huge semi-transparent glass disc with rocks and vegetation below – and it sometimes splits to create a diametric crevasse. Behind that is an upstage mirror screen behind which some of the action takes place and blurred things can happen.

Paul Miller’s directorial debut in his own home town (he runs the Orange Tree at Richmond for a day job) is a rather grown up, measured take on Macbeth. Much of the text which is often cut is restored and the show runs nearly three hours. GeneraIly I like that although the very wordy, action-light English scene could have done with a good prune.

Dervla Kirwan gives us an intelligent, plausible Lady Macbeth whose attractiveness and reasonableness makes what she is saying seem even more horrifying. And her sleep walking scene is one of the best I have ever seen – chilling and pitiful. John Simm manages Macbeth’s descent into tyranny (seems very topical) well. There’s a moment “O! Full of Scorpions is my mind, dear wife!” when Simm makes sure that you hear and see the madness and irrationality setting in and the leisurely pace at which most of the text are delivered gives you time to reflect on it.

In the support roles Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo is strong as Ross and Harry Peacock gives us a pretty straightforward but quite memorable porter. Beatriz Romilly – a female actor – uses her femininity to make Malcolm seem young but poised and initially frightened although she develops the character pleasingly.

It isn’t all great though. There were some audibility problems – which didn’t bother me much because I know the text of this play almost by heart but there is a downside to a very large cast on a thrust stage playing against an almost continuous rumbling sound track (by Max Pappenheim). His video designs don’t add much either. We really don’t need blood spattered across a screen, for example, to tell us that McDuff has killed Macbeth. And why, by the way, does Michael Balogun as Macduff use a somewhat incongruous south London accent when almost everyone else is speaking RP?

And sometimes the story telling gets lost. In Lady Macbeth’s first scene she is – famously – reading a letter from her husband. No one seeing the play for the first time would understand that from this version. Flashing up the odd word on the screen behind as she speaks just feels peculiar. There are minor characters whose identity seems incomprehensible too – too much walking on and off for no apparent reason.

John Simm and Dervla Kirwan in MACBETH at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Manuel Harlan

 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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