Macbeth. A play notorious for its darkened dialogue and at times terrifying imagery. One of Shakespeare’s most quoted and widely discussed works. With this in mind, one would usually encounter the play on a large stage, with a large audience. However, with the production at Barons Court Theatre, this was not the case. Below a quaint corner pub, lies the theatre itself. In a way, this served as both a curse and a blessing. Unfortunately, the pub seemed to be quite popular the night that I watched the play, which led to numerous disruptions from lost patrons seeking bathroom facilities or generally having a curious wander. Occasionally, you would hear the rolling of a beer filled barrel rattle across the ceiling briefly bringing you out of the tense atmosphere established by the actors. Once or twice, the crowd above would erupt into raucous cheering while watching some sport in the bar. Despite these numerous distractions however, I could not help but be captured by brave production of Macbeth put on by Hiraeth Artistic Productions.
The intimacy of the venue adds to Macbeth's eerie and darkened atmosphere. The audience are plunged into a battle-ridden, murderous space in time and are dragged through the psychological turmoil experienced by the protagonist with admiral poise. There are only fifty-seven seats in the theatre, and the stage is very small, but this seems to add to the advancement of the play as the audience begins to feel as isolated and alone as Macbeth does. With the actors and audience in such close proximity, one must admire the way in which the fight scenes are conducted; gracefully, yet with a very real element of danger since the audience are essentially in the battle with the characters. The pseudo in-the-round theatre format also helps to pile the pressure onto the increasingly deteriorating protagonist, who seems to become more penned in as the play progressed.
The acting is crisp and raw throughout, exposing the wounds of each character. Kazeem Tosin Amore, and the talented Zoë Ford (who also served as assistant director and producer) who played Macbeth and Lady Macbeth respectively, were particularly impressive, although Amore tended to hiss a bit too much, which ended up feminizing his character somewhat. The Weird Sisters scuttle around the stage with such energy, that you could not help but be drawn to their powerful glares and wince at their sudden shrieks and repulsive cackles. Dan Mullins, who plays Macduff, exudes such a powerful presence; it is a real shame that his clarity is sometimes lacking, but for the majority of his performance he is largely impressive. The set is bare, and there is a very limited use of props, apart from swords, daggers and the odd basket or rag. While a bare set can often backfire on a production, it works well in this instance, as the actors are able to take full control of their limited space and offer an enthralling performance to the audience.
One draw back of such a small space is that Joe Sheppard's lighting and blacking become an issue. There are times when actors stand at the back wall, their faces hidden in darkness, or a shadow might be cast against another actor meaning that her facial expressions become hidden from the audience. Some other instances include people leaning against two pillars that are awkwardly placed in the space, meaning that they are blocked out from to the audience behind them. With the space being so restricted, it also means that when the whole cast is on stage, it seems far too hectic and busy; it is very hard to concentrate on anything that was going on.
The use of costumes (supervised by Sophie Westerman) is interesting as well. While not distinctly Elizabethan, they seem to be able to fit in with the time. However, Macbeth does not look particularly royal, despite a small fur draped around his shoulders. Neither do the soldiers look overly ready for battle. But being so simplistic, it means that there are literally no distractions for the audience, who are allowed to concentrate fully on the acting in front of them.
There is nothing largely innovative about the production. For the most part, it sticks to the narrative of the original play, with some words and phrases clearly added in to modernise it slightly. While some other recent productions have attempted to present an ostentatious portrayal of Macbeth, Hiraeth Artistic Productions kept things simple. But like so many simple things, this is very effective.
It is an audacious and valiant effort. With resources clearly lacking for the newly established production company, they offer a thoroughly enjoyable theatre experience and tackle the daunting prospect of Macbeth admirably.