Variously described as one of Shakespeare’s most sublime plays, this Independent Theatre production is a worthy heir to such tidings and in no way should such a “title hang loose about [it], like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief”.
Indeed, from the opening moment when the crack and fury of thunder plunges the theatre into darkness, we sense the sparse and angular set, tinged with red, will be the place where the Bard’s wild, tragic, and fantastic “poem of the night” will appear before us in dreamlike clarity and distortion.
For this production, Rob Croser and David Roach have laid upon the Goodwood Institute stage, a raised, red, diamond-shaped platform, protruding out towards the audience, in the way the play’s witches predict that “palaces and pyramids do slope”.
This design gives focus to the action (as well as a challenge to the set makers, whose tables and chairs needed legs cut to accommodate the plunging angle) and a sense of the story and players being tipped, inevitably, toward their fate.
And the sound and lighting design in this production also deserve a very grateful nod. Key scenes are lit with exquisite, fundamental colours. Some examples include the deep, dark blue that bathes Macbeth in his early soul-searching, a similarly rich red as he deals with his post-feast encounters with Banquo’s ghost (spoiler alert), and a psychedelic bedazzlement of purples, greens, and pinks when the “weird sisters” are implored by Macbeth to share more insights.
And sounds, both foul and fair, accompany the action with great aplomb, worthy of further hat tips to Adam Hawes (sound operation) and Phoenix D’Ambrosio (lighting operation), enriching the experience and placing us deeply within the chilling and bloody atmosphere.
The story of Macbeth is one of the frenzy of ambition and the burden of guilt, as Macbeth (Matt Hyde) and Lady Macbeth (Rebecca Kemp) plot to kill Duncan, King of Scotland (David Roach), to make Macbeth king, before turning attentions to killing whomever might threaten to usurp the usurper. Along the way, three witches or weird sisters (Pam O’Grady, Lyn Wilson, and Emma Bleby) foretell Macbeth of his ascendence to the throne and, again, after he seeks them out, foretell him of his doom.
The centrepiece of this play is threefold. Firstly, Shakespeare gives us front row seats to Macbeth’s simmering conscience as it almost succeeds in countering his dark plans. Next, we witness Lady Macbeth’s plea to the heavens to “unsex” herself and make her bold and masculine enough to push her husband to see things through and even do the wet work herself. And, finally, the gruelling battles both face internally with their guilt arising from their bloody actions.
For another production delayed and fractured by Covid restrictions, director, Rob Croser, has worked with his actors to produce a sweep of good performances with, of course, some stand outs.
Matt Hyde has again shown the depth of his talent, crafting a majestic Macbeth, torn between good and evil, and being able to summon both power and vulnerability, triumph and despair. Three scenes rise above the rest. His vision of Banquo’s ghost at the feast was not only a disturbingly rich and beautiful tableau of the Macbeths’ inner circle, but his rantings against Banquo and his tormented soliloquy as he reflected on his men’s botched efforts, killing Banquo (Steve Turner) but missing Banquo’s son, Fleance (Callum Nunn), were moments to behold and will surely be long-remembered by audiences of this production. His return to the witches, seeking any solace from their visions, was indeed frenzied and desperate, and another highlight. And his reflections of his plight at the eleventh hour was chillingly perfect. Hyde’s delivery of the “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” speech, was beyond perfection and delicately placed before us with a most meaning-drenched utterance of the words, “simplifying nothing”.
Steve Turner’s opening scenes were also noteworthy, with his delivery recalibrating our 21st Century ears to the language of Shakespeare. His embodiment of his reactions and understandings of the ramblings of the witches, really helped set up the success of this production.
Likewise, Rebecca Kemp’s Lady Macbeth, became a believable schemer and channel of evil intent, holding her own in a “man’s world” and, indeed, taking it to darkest of darknesses.
And Shedrick Yarkpai’s Macduff had moments of gravitas, poignance, and power; receiving news of his family’s slaying, and finally confronting Macbeth in a fatal showdown.
To be fair, there are many parts of the play, especially the scenes of rallying war cries, that are blasted at top volume and might have benefited from some extra light and shade amid the “sound and fury”, but overall, this Independent Theatre production, performed in two hours without interval, will be remembered fondly by its audiences. And remembered frondly, if I may, for the glorious and sinister appearance of the forest of Dunsinane.