Taking on a Shakespeare show is always a challenge. But taking it on in his town of birth only adds to that pressure! However, Stratford-upon-Avon College Year 2 Acting and Backstage Production Arts students not only take on that challenge, but excel in their production of Macbeth, turning what can be a demanding text into a feast of glitz, glamour and gore.
Directed by Kat Bayley and Dewi Johnson, the show starts before the audience even enter the auditorium. Macduff, dressed in smart black suit and tie, welcomes the audience to The Dunsinane Casino – castle of fame and fortune. You are seated by casino staff members and take your place watching the revellers on stage gamble and party. The atmosphere is complimented by a smooth jazz soundtrack (operated by Dan Forsyth) and the lighting (operated by Lewis Howarth) creates an enticing ambience. Setting the play in a casino can only be described as a stroke of genius by the directors as the gambling, cheating and idea of ‘luck’ tie in to the theme of fate versus fortune in the play. When the three witches tell Macbeth he will be King, it is for him to decide if he will risk it all or not. The ultimate gamble.
The witches, played by Jarrad Heath, Luke Saidler and Elle Lewis bring an abundance of energy as soon as they start. They race around the set, jumping on tables and crawling on the floor. They also show great unity as their movements are choreographed and synced together, making them seem more one entity than three individuals. Moreover, the hair and makeup design added to their mystery and intrigue. Adding subtle eye make up to match their waistcoats and glitter in their hair, it intensifies their ‘otherness’ and makes them subtly different from the other characters on stage.
The show does not shy away from dramatic and bold choices both in design and delivery and multiple examples of this can be seen throughout the show. One particularly moving moment happens when Macduff learns of his family’s death. The raw emotion shown by actor Dan Bradbury was staggering and heartfelt. Another example is in the conspiracy scene between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. For this performance they were played by Harvey Bromwich and Megan Hannon respectively as the show is double cast; for other performances the roles were played by Malachy Power-Lydon and Shannon Alcock. Bromwich and Hannon’s intensity and passion shine through in this scene, making their domestic dramas as engaging as any modern soap opera.
The witches were mysterious and erratic whilst Macbeth and Lady Macbeth provided domestic drama
Their relationship is not the only strong one in the show. The friendship between Macbeth and Banquo (played by Rhys Dempster) is highlighted immediately, with the two actors showing a clear bond from the offset, making the latter events of the play even more brutal. And brutal this play is. With excellent fight choreography by Luke Saidler and Lauren Wade, each fight staged is clear and vicious. The characters use knives, fists and throws in their sequences which prove both dramatically effective and show off the amazing technical skills of the performers. In particular, Banquo’s murder scene would not be out of place in an action movie, using a modern knife fight to create fear and tension.
This heightened emotion and drama is maintained throughout, with the entire ensemble providing committed performances. The whole cast demonstrate a clear understanding of the language in the piece as well as creating mood and atmosphere to set the scenes. This ensemble mentality is heightened when it’s discovered that the cast also took on roles such as Assistant Directing, Movement Directing, Marketing, Front of House and in Costume Design, showing total involvement and dedication to producing a well-rounded show.
One actor who not only took on other production roles, but also took on multiple character roles was Peter Berry. Though excellent throughout, notable mention must be made for his role as the Porter. A role originally written to break the tension and keep audiences enjoying the piece, Berry took this to the extreme; wearing a gorgeous set of fake eyelashes, white flares, and a gold sparkly jacket. He enters first as part of a scene change, just to sweep the floor. This was turned into a dance sequence with his broom as a cane. His next entrance proved even more spectacular entering on a unicycle, then performing magic tricks and then a stand-up routine with audience participation. Every second was utilised and proves the saying that there are no small roles.
The whole cast were excellent, the fights dramatic and Peter Berry’s Porter provided light and laughter
The play moves at a great pace throughout. Not only do the scenes keep a good energy, but each scene change is used as a feature, rather than a break. Excellent music choices are made to highlight these, using songs like ‘I need a hero’ and ‘S&M’ to keep the modern feel. The play comes to a climax with a huge fight sequence, utilising the levels of the set, dramatic lighting, and edgy music. Overall, the show maintains its quality and engagement throughout.
To perform a Shakespeare play can be a daunting task for any actor and the Backstage Production Arts students had quite the challenge to create an engaging and intriguing design that provides a new and fresh take on such a well-known play. But the students took on the advice from the play and were bloody, bold and resolute and produced a production worthy of the name: Macbeth.