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Macbeth, Camden People’s Theatre

William Shakespeare

Directed by Amber Elliott
Pros: Intelligent all-round theatre making.
Cons: If you sit in the wrong place, you miss a lot of the best action.
Our Verdict: A traditional interpretation which uses every element theatre has to offer in perfect harmony to a high standard.
Courtesy of Titian Rep Theatre Company
Shakespeare is a popular choice – it has familiar style, quality, and narrative. One of the reasons Macbeth is considered the cursed play is because it was a favourite for failing theatres to try to bring back audiences. Considered safe in this way and perhaps performed more frequently because of it, Macbeth actually comes up against an awful lot more competition. With this in mind, a rendition of The Scottish Play really has to be something special. And this one was. 
Titian Rep Theatre Company deserves a reputation for intelligent theatre making. They achieved a perfect synthesis between costuming, music, setting, acting and effects. Often in theatre you can tell where the artists are strongest as creativity is spent focussing on one area, rushing the rest. With this production all elements are in balance to a very high standard which makes me think the meticulous nature of Amber Elliott and her creative team will either be a joy to work with or a nightmare!
Let’s assume the former as all the actors were clearly inspired and elevated in their roles with total commitment and faith in almost everything they were doing. I say almost because a couple of the fight scenes were a little jarring to watch as it wasn’t always convincing in an otherwise absorbing production. For the most part, the cast, aided by perfectly pitched musical decisions, were able to evoke a real sense of location to the point where I have trouble remembering it as a black box. With a more tribal interpretation of the characters in acting and costume, an irrevocable understanding of the community the action takes place in is created. This prevents the familiar events being ticked off in one’s head and becomes a frightening descension into darkness on both personal and political scales.
Tom Blyth as Macbeth acts with convincing intensity, although I found the interpretation of Lady Macbeth somewhat simpler, lacking subtlety. This could be a point of personal preference as I have a predilection for protagonists with whom one can sympathise and it can be argued that Shakespeare didn’t write her that way. The other performers were equally impressive, from the delightfully diverse David Bevan to Jennifer Shakesby who wins the prize for sheer watchability, whatever she was doing.
My biggest sense of disappointment with the show was that I was subjected to rubber necking. Much of the intense action was staged kneeling or lower. On a raised stage, no sightline problems like this would exist, but on a level stage, my neighbour and I were practically touching cheeks trying to see some of the most sensitive and revealing moments unfold.
One could ask where the responsibility lies for this. One of the pleasures of the theatrical experience is choosing the angle, and sometimes you get it wrong or you can’t afford prime position. Fair enough, but in a small theatre with unallocated seating it happened a few too many times for me to feel as though I’d just made a bad choice. It is one of the few times when having a packed auditorium works against you – but as problems go, it is probably a good one to have.
Overall, I can easily give four stars to this production because its flaws are minor points well made up for by delightful details from the pissing in a bucket to the deft use of haze. It is an impressive traditional interpretation of Macbeth which is idiosyncratically Scottish. It is a paragon for theatre makers everywhere proving that productions don’t have to be lavish or costly; Titian use all the tools of theatre powerfully, effectively and to a high standard with the basic toolbox of brilliant acting and creativity. Whilst competition amongst other Shakespeare performances is fierce, I am certain that Titian Rep are one of the strongest contenders.

Do you think performing Shakespeare is more or less risky in today’s theatre world? Where did you sit – could you see? Let us know by commenting below!

Macbeth runs at Camden People’s Theatre until 24 February 2013.
Box Office: 08444 77 1000 or book online at

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