Temple Church – until 7 September 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Antic Disposition return to the magnificent Temple Church with their dark and powerful production of Macbeth. Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero (who also designed the show) make the constraints of staging the play in the central aisle of the church seem minimal and make the most of the echoing acoustics and evocative atmosphere by using lighting at either end of the stage. The acoustics could work against a lesser cast during scenes where characters raise their voice, but the actors let the words breathe and the echoes carry, adding to the building tension onstage.
Shakespeare’s story of insane ambition and regicide is presented with the cast wearing Victorian clothing: Duncan (Chris Courtenay) in towering stovepipe hat, Ross (Robert Bradley) looking for all the world like a Victorian clerk and Lady Macbeth with a black bustle that is switched for a stunning red outfit after the interval when her bloody deed has been done. What is most effective is the witches’ costume and demeanour. Dressed as maidservants, they are an almost constant presence, effortlessly eerie in their encounters with Macbeth – staged simply and chillingly with no special effects. The cauldron scene becomes the 3 witches laundering the bloody sheets from Duncan’s deathbed, with a fantastic nod and a wink to the Victorian obsession for spiritualism as they call forth the spirits. The staging of Macbeth’s vision of Banquo’s (the excellent Peter Collis) future line of kings is simple but shocking. When the 3 (Louise Templeton, Bryony Tebbutt and Robyn Holdaway) take the roles of messengers and servants delivering bad tidings to Macbeth or taking orders from the nobles, there is a definite Handmaid’s Tale rebellion vibe as they intone bad news in a monotone, never quite making eye contact with their masters, but allowing a victorious smile to creep out as their machinations triumph. The use of the witches is inspired, especially during Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene, adding an extra frisson of psychological horror.
Harry Anton is a strong and brooding Macbeth, delivering the most well-known speeches with an intense stillness but also excelling in the more physical scenes. Helen Millar’s steely Lady Macbeth is a fine match for Anton, and their onstage chemistry is wonderful to watch, especially so as their grip on power loosens. Andrew Hislop’s Macduff and Nathan Hamilton as Malcolm also impress, making even the tedious scene where Malcom tests Macduff riveting. Wisely, Chris Courtney’s Seyton is played as a boorish, unappealing drunk rather than forcing any comedy out of the scene.
This chilling and atmospheric production proves that with a stellar cast, inspired design and an intuitive understanding of Shakespeare’s text, you don’t need high tech bells and whistles to create something magical.