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Review: Macbeth at SHP

Blood spatter, treachery and backstabbing… Joe Malyan's intensely dark production of Macbeth returns to South Hill Park.

Macbeth South Hill Park Bearded man sword 4 witches

Bewitched: Max Puplett’s power mad Macbeth surrounded by his witches

Shakespeare’s apocalyptic Macbeth has returned to South Hill Park for more blood, treachery and back-stabbing than your average Brexit pow wow – with power struggles and political positioning aplenty.

It’s the first community production of the year. Many of the original 2017 cast have returned (lines nailed) and under the expert direction of Joe Malyan, it should be a surefire hit. His shows always have a filmic quality, and Macbeth is no different.

Traditionally set in Scotland, the stage design by the creative genius that is Victoria Spearing, is as austere as the Highlands itself. A fabric backdrop, lit to resemble a craggy rock face with moveable boulders escorted around the stage, is simple yet effective and creates a Lord of The Rings/ Game Of Thrones vibe.

Costume designer Anne Thompson (who has Game of Thrones and Taboo on her CV – must quiz her about Tom Hardy’s vital statistics) completed the brief. Think floaty dresses, leather tunics and a smattering of fur covered shoulders – even Macbeth’s dressing gown had a hairy trim. If Hugh Hefner did the Revenant, this bad boy would be his.

Macbeth South Hill Park Bracknell 3 witches dancing with lanterns

Like the opening score to an epic film, the room fills with the haunting voices of the witches singing Scottish folk songs off stage. I actually thought it was a recording at first, until they drifted into the light. Damn, those ladies can sing! They provide the goosebumpy and exquisite soundtrack to this production which gives the play real depth.

As for the cast? Well, behind every great man is a greater woman, and Laura Hannawin’s Lady Macbeth is a force of nature as the play’s ambitious social climber who wears the pants in their relationship. Poor old Max Puplett’s Macbeth doesn’t stand a chance. Driven to the point of murderous madness (encouraged by his wife) as he spills blood all over the place to get his grubby mitts on the crown. Heartbreak, determination and despair etched across their faces.

Macbeth South Hill Park Bracknell man and wide embrace on stage

Gold digger: There ain’t nothing Laura Hannawin’s Lady Macbeth won’t do to get a crown

Puplett is a big fella, and at first I felt that his big softie approach to the role was slightly off beam, but it made his unravelling even more powerful – superbly acted when he sees the ghost of Banquo (Ashleigh Wells) at the royal feast. Hannawin perfecting the art of keeping up appearances. Uncertainty causes panic, just ask Brexit-weary Theresa May.

There’s a tendency for Shakespearean gore to be toned down, but as far as I am concerned the more blood spatter the better. Too much Dexter and You on Netflix? Probably. Maylan certainly doesn’t shy away from the blood-thirsty scenes, I just would liked to have seen more of it. The assassinations of King Duncan and the Macduff family seemed to be done and dusted in a flash. But at least the clean up would have been quick.

Macbeth South Hill Park Bracknell man wielding sword in battle

Back stabber: Power mad Puplett sticks the knife in.

There were a couple of minor sound issues, and a few first night nerves were evident among the younger members of the cast with some lines barely heard as they rushed to blurt their lines out. Glitches are to be expected on the opening night, but they all get ironed out as the cast settle in.

It’s a great watch and if you have a teen studying Shakespeare at school, this intense interpretation is better than CliffsNotes. For me personally, the second half felt about 15 minutes too long. There was a moment when there was a lot of wafting around, leaving the audience begging for bloody battles and psychological pain.

 

That said, if you take one thing away, it’s the cyclical nature of history – the raging thirst for power will endlessly repeat itself, over and over and over again. Just ask Boris Johnson.

Macbeth at South Hill Park Bracknell is on until Sun 10 Feb

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