Pros: Simple yet striking set that illuminates the darkness of this tale.
Cons: Stagnant and one-level performances which give the plot a directionless feel. As a fringe enthusiast, I’m always keen to visit new venues in the capital, and with the Steiner Theatre being just round the corner from Baker Street’s Madame Tussauds, you can’t get a better location than this. The Rudolf Steiner House is a centre that offers spirituality, education and art for its community, but be pre-warned, if you’re hoping for a pre-show drink, the venue has no bar (tea and coffee available for £1).
With 2016 being the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, there is plenty of the Bard’s work to see. From Romeo and Juliet to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, you are spoilt for choice with new productions opening every month. This month is the turn for Full Houses’ production of Macbeth.
With Patrick Stewart, Kenneth Branagh and Ian McKellen all having taken on the monumental role of the Scottish warrior, it is never going to be an easy challenge. Despite being one of the most sought-after roles in theatre, with all his madness and destruction, Macbeth is a tough character to get right.
In case you don’t know the plot of Shakespeare’s most famous political tragedy, Macbeth (Tom Hartill) is set in Scotland with Duncan (Stephen Christos) as king. The play dramatises the rise and fall of Macbeth’s ambition for power, which is so great he will stop at nothing to get it. Spurred on by his wicked wife Lady Macbeth (Laura Murray), Scotland is dragged under as he sets out to slay all who are an obstacle in his political path to kingship. Soaked in evil, murder and despair this play should have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. Unfortunately, Full Houses’ production is dull and lacks atmosphere.
Director Jack Brackstone-Brown has obviously taken the artistic choice to present an understated version of the Scottish play, which just doesn’t work for such a savage drama. Tom Hartill’s betrayal of Macbeth is flat and unvarying, showing little of his guilt, villainy or descent into madness. The famous ‘Is this a dagger…’ speech comes so quickly and unexpectedly; you’d be forgiven for missing it. The cast were unemotional and blasé, appearing to be completely unaffected by the numerous murders. They lacked depth and at times, they seemed to be just saying lines. Matthew Gundel is the highlight of the production, giving a passionate performance as Macduff.
Brackstone-Brown’s portrayal of Banquo’s (Jane Elsmore) death and her ghost’s appearance, created by using silhouette, is really creative and provides a nice spectacle on stage. The decision to make Banquo female is interesting and adds a new level of curiosity.
The set, layered with sheer plastic sheeting creates a wonderfully gloomy image when adorned with lighting, accentuating the dark tone of the play. As red is projected onto the screens, the creases of the plastic become oozing blood-filled veins making a chilling backdrop for the weird sisters. The costumes are unimaginative and scruffy, with military colours used for all. With the weird sisters taking on other roles, hoodies seem lazy and uninformative. Lady Macbeth and her husband also require some sprucing up to show their progression of power from thane to royalty.
Macbeth is a hard production to stage, with the main character being even harder to fulfil. Had Full Houses’ version of Macbeth taken more risks, then perhaps I would be hailing them; but unfortunately this production is predictable and dull with little passion, energy or charisma.
Who knows what the Bard would say about this understated production but I’m pretty sure he would question what they had done with all the drama.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Jack Brackstone-Brown
Producer: Full Houses Theatre
Box Office: 0333 666 3366
Booking Link: www.rsh.anth.org.uk/pages/concerts.php
Booking Until: 30 July 2016