Home » Reviews » Off West End » Macbeth, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Macbeth, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

William Shakespeare

★★★
Pros: Beautifully performed by each and every cast member.
Cons: The immense heat came close to ruining the experience.
Our Verdict: A fantastic rendition of this Shakespearean classic, but bring a fan!
Credit: Ciaran Cunningham
I was intrigued to see this unusual version of Shakespeare’s Scottish play from the Wyrd Sisters Theatre Company. Made up of an all-female cast – aside from the three male witches – the Bard’s dark tragedy is described as being ‘set against the backdrop of a war-torn country to which the men mysteriously never returned’. The experience was accented on the walk to the theatre area. Pinned to the wall by the stairwell were notices of ‘The last man dies’, headlines propagating female marriage for survival and even dating adverts from women desperate to find some man still existing in the nation to impregnate them.
The venue of the performance was The Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town. Upon entering, I found a wonderful gastropub, airy and summery, and was directed to the theatre area upstairs. As I read and passed the aforementioned notices/props, I sat myself down in the intimate seating area, large enough for forty people, more-or-less. The lights dimmed, the characters took their seats and I was entranced.
Firstly, the lighting and the setting captured me. Flashing lights and curtains of black plastic set the scene for a gritty, almost post-apocalyptic setting, as did the characters dressed in rough and ready riding gear. It completely entranced me. The lights, designed by William Eagles, indicated urgency at the parts that needed it and shone peacefully on the calmer scenes.
Freya Alderson as Macbeth was a joy to watch as she innocently rose to Thane of Cawdor following the prediction of the three witches. Her descent into darkness truly captured Macbeth’s lunacy in her desperate elevation to become King of Scotland, killing the original King (played by Olga Leon) and even killing her kinsman Banquo, played effortlessly by a light-hearted yet suddenly dark Briony Rawle. Charlie Ryall as Lady Macbeth was less sensual than past portrayals I had seen of Macbeth’s murderous wife. She was sterner but still as calculating. It was still however, a great portrayal of the power hungry Lady Macbeth, a version of her that scared me and still made me pity her descent into madness following her and her husband’s brutal rise to power.
In truth, the entire cast were of terrific quality. I could see true, trained acting skill shine through in all their performances. Intensity and enthusiasm were rife amongst the cast. I was delighted by the pivotal male weird witches, as they creepily spread their poisonous predictions.
I think my main criticism of this rendition would be of the theatre area itself. Although a wonderful setting, I was sweltering. It was already a boiling hot July day and the dark room lacked air con, fan or general ventilation whatsoever. I wanted so desperately to concentrate but the sauna like atmosphere made my eyes heavy. As my own forehead sweated, I pitied the leathered up actors. In fact the acting feat was made even more impressive by it; such powerful performances in the face of such heated conditions. I breathed with extreme relief at the interval, although it did make the cold beer taste even better!
The fight scenes, although played with force, were also slightly pantomine-like. They didn’t seem as physically violent as they should have been, but maybe that was because I was so close to the action that I could see the sword that was supposed to be killing someone land a foot away from them. I also kept imagining them as women playing men, the destruction of the male race was hinted at in the scenes, but the ladies fought like men and behaved like men, a contradiction to the man-free concept the play was trying to portray. But then maybe I was just lacking imagination.
In all, this is a play I would definitely recommend people see but I also recommend potential members of the audience bring a small fan with them. I wished I could have concentrated better but the suffocating heat brought down the experience for me, for what were otherwise captivating performances.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Macbeth runs at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 3rd August 2013.
Box Office: 08444 771 000 or book online at

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