The bosky park that provided an enchanted setting for A Midsummer Night's Dream last year, takes on an altogether more sinister character for the murderous plottings of the Macbeths.
Designer Cleo Pettit adds walkways among trees for her treehouse castle rearing above a claustrophobic arena focussed around the Stygian pool of water that doubles as witches’ cauldron and washbowl for exhausted warriors and sleepwalking Lady Macbeth alike.
Director Gareth Machin has assembled a strong cast, all of whom, apart from Macbeth himself, are required to double, feats which they pull off with lightning changes and deftly-drawn characters.
Especially impressive are Eleanor Montgomery, playing both a steely Lady Macbeth and a hooded witch and Angus Brown giving us a male witch and a tough no-nonsense Macduff. And as well as completing the infernal trio, Jennifer Matter also manages to invest the tiny part of Lady Macduff with a heartbreaking bravado as she deplores her husband’s disastrous absence in the face of her family’s murderers.
Elsewhere, Martin Pirongs, Richard Evans and Scott Brooksbank are convincing as Banquo, Duncan and Malcolm respectively, while relishing a range of cameo roles. And fourteen-year-old Thomas Self, one of three young actors doubling as Fleance and Macduff’s son, proved a fine advertisement on press night for Stagecoach Theatre Schools who trained them.
But the emotional centre of Machin’s reading of the play is Tom Peters’ more complex Macbeth. His is the terrifying journey we’re forced to share. This fine actor has the personality and voice power to hold that centre and make us believe in his descent from loyal thane to murderous ruler. His dawning realisation of how he’s been tricked by the witches into following his basest instincts gives way to an almost noble resignation to death at Macduff’s hands. For him the game is up, as much because of what he has done to deserve his fate as being outmanoeuvred and outsmarted.
Although this is a more conventional reading than last year’s Dream, the fight scenes look genuinely brutal, thanks to Fight Director Phillip D’Orleans, and with knives as weapons of choice, they have disturbing contemporary resonance. Costume designer Mia Flodquist’s Dark Ages skins and weaves make an authentic stage picture and should be practical in thunder, lightning, wind and rain – as well as summer heat-waves. And the drumbeat of composer Russell Hepplewhite’s music adds to the unsettling atmosphere of inexorable doom.