Pros: Inventive staging in a great setting.
Cons: Some scenes lacked subtlety; a tendency towards melodrama at times made it difficult to take those scenes seriously.
Macbeth makes sense in a graveyard. The knell of death and otherworldliness in Abney Park Cemetery, which is also a nature reserve, makes it a natural place to stage the bloody story of betrayal, hubris, and remorse. Paul Linghorn’s direction makes particularly good use of the space, with witches popping out all over the place and a mysterious masked figure with a guitar (and a nifty belt-clip amp) appearing periodically to lead us from place to place. Banquo’s ghost also gets some fun scenes leering at us through the trees as darkness descends. The banquet scene is a special highlight, with members of the audience picked out to eat at table with the actors. Linghorn doesn’t shy away from the violence of the piece and Ronin Traynor’s fight direction brings some real vim and vigour to the production.
Steve Fitzgerald’s adaptation is an audience-friendly 90 minutes long. I did make the mistake of bringing a Genuine Shakespeare Scholar (patent pending) with me, who grumbled that one of the parts, Hecate, is a later invention of Thomas Middleton and not Shakespeare at all. Personally I rather liked the Hecate bits, though, so if you’re not the kind of person to get caught up in Shakespeare pedantry you probably will too. (And even if you are, you can always have the joy of grumbling about it after.) Much of the humour in this adaptation is redistributed to the witches, who act as manic guides through the spooky cemetery pathways. Fitzgerald, Kelly Eva May and Phillippa Crabb are our three witches, the scariest thing about whom is their incredibly tatty wigs. Because they all cover double-duty with various smaller parts in the production, Fitzgerald, May and Crabb get a range and variety that reveals their skill in each part. In particular May’s transitions from witch into Lady Macduff and Hecate were expressive and precise.
Some of the larger roles in contrast appeared stuck in a single emotion throughout. Macbeth isn’t the most subtle play so it’s a challenge to bring depth to the bold, single-minded motivations sketched out by its major characters, especially when trying to enunciate in a forest which has a tendency to swallow up soft speech. Unlike previous productions I’ve seen in Abney Park I didn’t have a problem hearing the actors, but there were times I felt they were acting at me with a Capital A. In a setting like this where the audience and the actors are so close together, that heightened level of presentation can come off as overbearing and I noticed several people smiling uncomfortably in scenes that could have been arresting through genuine pathos instead of feeling like an exaggerated sketch of emotional turmoil.
Despite that, the show is enjoyable overall, and a walk around Abney Park Cemetery out of hours is definitely a worthwhile experience, especially when paired with material so perfectly suited to the place.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Paul Linghorn
Fight Director: Ronin Traynor
Editor: Steve Fitzgerald
Producer: Pandemonium Performance Company/Capital City Entertainment
Booking Until: 27 July 2014