When tackling a play as momentous and deeply explored as Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one must think hard about how to inventively approach what has been done so many times before. Director Harry Tennison seemed to realize this challenge, writing in the Director’s note for the production of the active attempt to make “a play about the people in it, rather than our impressions based on performance history”. Indeed, set in the modern day and on a minimalistic set, featuring only a table, some chairs and a sofa, this production seemed a far cry away from the lavishly dressed period sets many Shakespearian adaptations rely on- much to its advantage.
If anyone is unfamiliar with Macbeth, the plot follows a brave solider who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that he will become King of Scotland, and thus, spurred on by his wife and his growing ambitions, sets forward a murderous plan to achieve this.
Article 19’s Macbeth, not fully deviating from Shakespearean tradition, was staged in the round. This meant placing the performance in the centre of the hall, and the audience on three sides. The risky stylistic choice paid off by creating an immersive and engaging experience, which was furthered through the minimalistic set design. This had the brilliant effect of allowing you to feel like there was nothing in between you and the characters.
The immersive staging created an intense piece, which was furthered by several standout performances. Notably, Katy Owens’ Lady Macbeth was performed with an impressive range that indicated a clear understanding of such a complex character. Another mention should be Will Smith, who’s Macbeth was performed with a subtle conviction and engaging characterization. James Porter’s Macduff also impressed with an evident grasp of notoriously dense Shakespearean dialogue in a way that seemed effortless, thus evoking intense sympathy and engagement with his character.
Admittedly, it’s a difficult challenge when approaching Shakespearean texts to make the complex language understandable to audiences, and this feat was sometimes not achieved. This was particularly evident in intense scenes, with some actors increasing their pace of delivery for dramatic effect, at the expense of the clarity of their dialogue. Nevertheless, the large cast created an ensemble orientated performance, and as a cast of focused actors, this created an impressively engaging two hours.
One of the most interesting stylistic choices was the frequent use of blackouts. I would argue that this use of blackouts gave the piece an episodic nature at times, and sometimes weakened the intensity of the preceding scene, and allowed the performance to feel slightly disjointed at times. Nevertheless, it was often a really effective way of allowing the audience to pause and reflect on the scene before moving on to the next, which is definitely a commendable thing to achieve in a play with such a fast paced plot.
Overall, Article 19’s Macbeth was comprised of a visibly enthusiastic and passionate cast, and filled with inventive creative decisions that largely paid off to create a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive piece.