Pros: A superior cast in commanding form making the finest of tragedies even finer.
Cons: Mechanisms preserving the theatre’s foundations make it feel colder inside than out; heavenly during the summer, but something of a challenge in the winter!
A walk along the South Bank has become a wholly different experience in recent times. Representations of ancient and modern sit cheek by jowl as the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and Golden Hinde are dwarfed by the Shard – the very essence of modernity. A short hop round the corner we also find The Rose Playhouse buried in a modern office block. Barely a hole in the wall, its foundations are preserved in a temperature controlled environment which lends the space a cool, eerie atmosphere. A balcony overlooks the foundations traced by neon lighting and well positioned spotlights. There is no doubting the historical significance of The Rose – built a full 12 years before The Globe – especially considering a number of Shakespeare’s early works were performed here. So what can we say about Macbeth, a play written in 1606 with more than a passing nod to James II? Well just for the uninitiated, a brief overview might be useful.
Somewhere in the Scottish moorlands Macbeth and Banquo, two of King Duncan’s generals, come upon three witches. They predict Macbeth’s promotion and elevation to the Kingship of Scotland. It is also foretold that Banquo’s descendants shall be kings. Afterwards, King Duncan names Macbeth Thane of Cawdor in thanks for his success in recent battles, which seems to support the prophecy. Lady Macbeth receives news from her husband about the prophecy and his new title, and vows to help him become king by any means necessary.
And so the fun begins as a bright six strong cast go through their paces with many doubling up in key roles. Jesse Ayertey maintains terrific presence in the title role while Parys Jordon is a perfect foil in the dual roles of Duncan and Macduff. Esther Shanson is a wonderfully understated Lady Macbeth, conveying a quiet and duplicitous menace; Allis Duff is highly effective as Banquo, but seemingly drew the short straw performing a misplaced monologue as a pizza eating street artist. The elegant Courtney Ceanne Buchner completes the ensemble as Ross the thane and messenger.
The cast deliver performances that sparkle with confidence and sureness of touch. For the audience, Shakespeare demands an open mind and appreciation of dialogue with a rhythm all its own. Once in the zone, this production of Macbeth becomes a juicy tale of our time and any other. The three witches stand in the place of social media, feeding the players with rumours and half-truths, promising riches and power. Are there not echoes of reality in our own political climate? Is King Duncan really masquerading as Theresa May clinging to power? Is there not an ever growing queue of Macbeths waiting to unseat her? Power and influence is universal currency and Macbeth has never felt more relevant than in this beautiful but troubled time in which we live.
However, being a southern softie I feel the temperature must be addressed. Shakespeare in a fridge may be appealing to some; in fact, an icy descending mist might even add to authenticity (yes, I could believe it was actually the Scottish moorlands). To be absolutely fair, the venue leaves no doubt that patrons should dress accordingly and blankets are provided on the door. Having said that, it won’t always provide the optimum audience experience.
Playwright: William Shakespeare
Director: Alex Pearson
Producers: Alex Pearson Productions & Unfolds Theatre
Booking Until: 24 February 2018
Box Office: 020 7261 9565
Booking Link: http://www.wegottickets.com/rosetheatre