Deputy Editor Kirstie Sutherland reviews Article19’s powerful production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, centering on power, desire and death. Countless productions and star-studded casts have trodden the boards in recent years, and so it seemed perfect timing for the Guild of Students’ Article 19 to have a crack at it themselves. Led by director Harry Tennison, the performance was mainly female-led, a refreshing change given that Macbeth is such a male-heavy play, with only a few central roles, such as Macbeth and Macduff, being played by men (Will Smith, James Porter).
Smith’s portrayal of Macbeth was strong, more so as he descended into madness throughout the play. Despite occasions where he mumbled his words and the sense was slightly lost, his talent was unquestionable. There was a dramatic sense of foreboding, anger and menace in his delivery, commanding the stage with the power his character so greatly desires. The dagger scene especially portrayed Macbeth with a particularly confused urgency, placing a particular emphasis on his worsening mental health, with him placed under a spotlight for all to see with his imagined dagger.
However, it was Lady Macbeth, played by Katy Owens, who really stole the show; she felt like the true star. Her wonderful, natural delivery of her lines conveyed far more emotion than most portrayals I have witnessed, with every movement and facial expression a careful choice. Act I Scene 5 was a highlight, with Lady Macbeth’s famous ‘murdering ministers’ monologue being portrayed with such anxiety, such urgency, that it really brought a particular gravity to her character – she is one driven by frustration and grief, rather than the pure evil she is usually known for. So to must praise go to James Porter, whose portrayal of Macduff was particularly raw and grief-stricken, a scorchingly powerful performance searing through the rest of the play.
Tennison’s staging of the production was particularly well thought out. Following the Bard’s original lines, the naked, stark backdrop was a welcome choice, allowing the words to take centre stage and really take on the performance’s main focus – only a dining table and sofa were present throughout. Music choice was precisely worked out, each track used to add a certain magnitude to the moments in which it featured. In particular, a scene right before Lady Macbeth’s death is announced: she walks around the stage, desolate, down-trodden, reading through condolence cards and clutching her now deceased child’s teddy bear, during which Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’ echoes around the Debating Hall. While some attending with me felt this choice was indulgent, I enjoyed this immensely as the emotive track and the wordless sequence that joined it on stage accentuated the all too easily forgotten backstory to Lady Macbeth’s character, and her true driving force. It took the stereotypical view of her character, and it humanised her.
The magical and ethereal manner of the play was employed sparingly, but to great effect. The witches (Emily Atkinson, Carina Stephens, Laura Hickie) only appear a handful of times throughout the play, but each of their performances were staggering. Walking in from each corner, covered in blue-green lights and dry ice creating a spooky entrance for the coven, the delivery was supreme: all in unison with deadpan expressions, making their scenes particularly otherworldly, bringing the creepy sentiment of the play back to haunt us when we had started to forget. Kalifa Taylor’s portrayal of Banquo was also staggering in this regard, the feast scene really emphasising Macbeth’s guilt and inner torment through her wraithlike appearance and dominating force, spilling wine as though spilling her own blood. The ending, slow and poignant, portrays Macbeth’s death as something powerful within itself, ridding the play of the evil seeping throughout.
All in all, Article 19’s adaptation of Macbeth is a wonderful one. Giving the powerful words of the Bard particular focus on stage, and gifting it a strong cast with which to perform them, Tennison’s particular production is spot on.