As the evening begins, a modest set consisting of wooden crates and swords takes centre stage, reminding the audience that this is fringe theatre. Soon, though, the experience becomes so immersive that any aesthetics become completely secondary. It’s the energy of the acting, not the set or props, that makes this production of Macbeth, by all-female identifying company PLAYERS, a standout performance.
The music playing as we wait for the production to begin audibly demonstrates the detail and thought put into what we are about to witness. Mother Mother’s ‘Verbatim’fills the playhouse, from the start imparting a message relevant to the play. The track, which explores the theme of gender stereotyping, is perfectly befitting for a performance that breaks free of this concept. Elizabethan England would not have entertained the idea of women on a stage; any female roles were performed by men or young boys. Shakespeare may be turning in his grave at the prospect of women playing his characters, but I feel he might well come round to the idea if he were to witness the exuberance exhibited by the actors in this extraordinary interpretation.
The script stays true to the original, and the integrity of the play is carefully considered in the staging. Eerie silhouettes cast shadows against the backdrop among the flickering of candles, evoking an atmospheric, supernatural setting. Choosing to dress the Weird Sisters in white works well alongside the compelling acting, making them feel even more sinister than had they been cast in dark clothing. Macbeth’s fall from grace plays out effectively as he goes from “brave Macbeth” to “malicious, false, deceitful”, and his fatal flaw leads to tragic downfall as he gives way to ambition. Beckis Cooper as Macbeth speaks her soliloquies powerfully and directly to the audience, creating an atmosphere of intense intimacy as the words convey the internal workings behind the moral struggles of the character battling to justify the darker thoughts within him.
Lady Macbeth (Emma Clifford) defies all that a conventional Lady might be in her quest for power, the Machiavellian characterisation enhancing the overall feeling of ‘girl power’. There’s a standout performance from London-born Celia Learmonth who plays the Second Witch and Macduff. She tackles the roles with passion and vigour and really brings the characters she plays to life.
At times the performance is a little shouty for a venue that is on the smaller side. Some dialogue is slightly lost in the more intense, energetic scenes, but overall, it is a well-executed performance. Lisa Millar directs the play confidently, guiding the cast to deliver an all-round solid performance that proves the story can be told successfully within an all-female framework.
This is an ideal production for students since it is covered in GCSE English, and I noted a few among the audience. It stretches the conventional interpretation, dynamically challenging issues of historical gender assignment. I felt inspired by the performances and came away feeling that I’d had the pleasure of witnessing a group of actors take pride in their work, as every member approached their roles with dedication. I highly recommend this production as an engaging, rewarding treat for Halloween!
Written by: William Shakespeare
Directed by: Lisa Millar
Produced by: Beckis Cooper
Macbeth plays at Chiswick Playhouse until 6 November. Further information and bookings via the below link.