As I approach the Taachi Morris Arts Centre in Taunton, Somerset I am full of hope for my new role as South West correspondent at PlayShakespeare.com. I am eager to show that down here in the West Country we are more than just cows and cream teas and that our theatre scene is a respectable one too. Sadly the experience I have watching Platform 4’s production of Macbeth is not the performance to demonstrate this.
The arts centre is a small but impressive venue located just out of Taunton town centre with a theatre that can hold approximately 200 people. On taking my seat I am first surprised by the lack of any set whatsoever as I am met by a completely blank stage and ask myself whether this production has any kind of creative or artistic team at all.
Directed by Simon Plumridge, the opening witches’ scene, instead of immediately setting the menacing tone, prompts titters of amusement from its young audience. The witches emit comical groans and moans, their faces covered in black material which also forms the rest of their costuming with what looks like a rope tied around their waists for good measure. The hilarity established only gathers momentum as the lines are delivered to an already tickled audience.
More positive contributions include James Bellorini, who plays a largely convincing Macbeth, and is undoubtedly one of the stronger elements of this production, although his anger and madness does not particularly build up to a great climax. Essentially, he starts loud and brooding, and dies loud and brooding. Tamsin Fessey as Lady Macbeth plays the role adequately too, creating strong sense of desperation and fear present within the couple once the murders are committed.
Such performances are not enough, however, to detract from the extreme lack of any artistic creativity in the costuming, staging or lighting. I am aware this is a time where arts funding is at a minimal but the blandness of the costuming cannot be overlooked. Occasions that should be portrayed as full of pomp and ceremony such as the banquet in act three are indicated only by a change of jacket and modest table added to the blank stage.
With such a young audience (90% of those in attendance were under 18 at my viewing) waiting to be captivated and for their English GCSE to be brought alive, it’s no wonder Shakespeare is regarded as inaccessible by many young people these days.
Bland costuming and basic lighting which is sometimes so faint the audience struggle to see facial expressions soon equals boredom; the production’s main saving grace being it’s shortness in length: two and a half hours with one interval.
I leave the theatre disappointed. At times the cast of actors whose pedigree judging from the programme is highly respectable in most cases, began to shine; they delivered the content convincingly and professionally, but whether it is the small venue or weakness of the artistic team led by Catherine Church which colludes to this production’s downfall, I leave believing it was not just Macbeth who had been victim to a tragedy, but the audience too.