Paul Johnson | 22 Jul 2014 01:32am
It has always been said that Macbeth is the ‘unlucky’ play and many thespians are loath to even utter its name, often referring to it as ‘The Scottish Play’. The reason it was known as such, is a complete reversal of the original meaning. Macbeth, or ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ to give it its full title, was known to be a very popular play throughout the years among theatre goers, and was always known to put bums on seats. If a theatre company was going through hard times and was down on its luck and suffering from a distinct lack of patrons and cash, the company would stage Macbeth and suddenly the theatre would be crammed to the galleries with play-goers. The term ‘The unlucky play’ indicated that the theatre had been unlucky and was now trying to get back on the breadline by staging such a major production that Macbeth surely is.
I had been looking forward to coming to see a Guildburys production as I had heard from many sources that they were a company that performed dramatic works better than many professional Shakespeare companies. The only thing I wasn’t looking forward to was the weather. All sources had stated that we were in for heavy rain and extreme thunder storms. I duly arrived at Waverly Abbey House with my heavy duty wax jacket and matching hat, only to discover a change in the weather patterns – it turned out to be beautifully sunny and extremely hot. Those three Witches must have been hard at work.
The play opened with the three witches skulking, crawling, cackling, and hissing their way across the heath – which in fact was the auditorium area en-route to the stage. The music, fog, and atmosphere suddenly sparked into life transporting us back in time to the Scottish moors.
Many previous productions I have seen of Macbeth, and I have seen quite a few, have a slow and laborious first act where the actors are trying to get the story and background across to the audience – not so with Guildburys, they cracked on at a galloping pace, but losing none of the story – in fact, it was made very clear what was happening at all times. Top marks. Director Ian Nichols ought to show the professional companies how it’s done.
The whole cast were absolutely brilliant and not a weak actor in sight. Mike Lawrence, as Macbeth had great stage presence and made you fearful – so much so, you had an overwhelming desire to check behind your back when he wasn’t on stage. Consumed by ambition and spurred on by his evil wife, Macbeth murdered King Duncan while he was staying under his roof, and then took over the throne for himself. He is then wracked with guilt and paranoia, and he soon becomes a plotting and tyrannical king as he is forced to arrange and oversee more and more murders to protect himself from suspicion and enmity. Once started, the bloodbath swiftly takes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth into the realms of arrogance, madness, and eventually death. Alison Nicol really got under the skin of Lady Macbeth, grasping the part and playing it with venom. She was so possessed, that evil seeped from every pore on her body. Her voice was the very shiver that ran up your spine in your worst nightmare.
Every cast member was brilliant. If I was to write about everyone, saying how good they were, I would be writing a book instead of a review – but some cast members deserve that little bit extra recognition. Graham Russell-Price was excellent as both Seyton and the Porter. He played both parts so well and differently, you could be excused for thinking they were two different professional Shakespearian actors. Russell-Price’s Porter, a part that can be rather mediocre when played by many actors and made to look as though it was just thrown in for good measure, was outstanding. It bought some much needed light relief in this otherwise dark tale. From the moment his character came on stage, he held the audience in the palm of his hand, even to the point of pinching a bottle of wine from one poor unsuspecting audience member and taking a giant swig from it. His Seyton was very slick as the ever dutiful loyal servant of Macbeth.
Mark Ashdown played Banquo very well, but I felt that the ghost scene was a little bit of a let-down, not by any fault of Ashdown, but because I was expecting something a little more spectacular from such a talented company. The three witches, Diane Nichols, Debby Phillips, and Laura Sheppard, were totally revolting and so well portrayed I felt we were observing real heathen hags out on that ancient misty moorland. Eddie Woolrich played the doctor in Lady Macbeth’s possessed scene well enough but with one major flaw coming from the props team – he was busy writing his notes in a notebook with a pencil. Now I am very particular when it comes to the costumes and props looking right for the production, but I thought it should have been blatantly obvious that notebooks didn’t exist back at that time. They would only have access to very poor quality primitive paper. As for the pencil – that was well ahead of its time, the poor doctor would have certainly used a quill and ink. Perhaps the good Doctor was a time traveller.
Let’s look at the technical team. I couldn’t tell how good the lighting was; as I was watching the matinee in full bright sunshine, but I’m sure the lighting designer Robin Sheppard would have had something spectacular up his sleeve. I can’t imagine a company like Guildburys putting on such an excellent production without having lights to match. The music of composer, Andrew Donovan, carried the mood of each scene beautifully throughout, and was very haunting in all the right places. The music and sound underscored the whole play giving it a movie quality. Sound man Simon Price had every cue spot-on. The costumes were exactly right for the show and the set was impressive.
I came away from Waverly absolutely enthralled, making a note to come back again next year. If you missed this must-see spectacular, then Guildburys are performing the whole thing again in the grounds of Haslemere museum from the 31st July until the 2nd of August. Give yourself a treat and go along, you won’t be disappointed.
- : admin
- : 16/07/2014