Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Alex Clifton
Reviewer: Clare Boswell
Chester’s Open Air Theatre has, delightfully, become somewhat of a summer fixture now, residing for the months of July and August in the beautifully picturesque Grosvenor Park. Since it’s opening in 2010, Artistic Director Alex Clifton and his team have prided themselves on delivering top quality performances to the City of Chester, and thankfully Clifton’s energetic and innovative production of Macbeth is no exception.
Jessica Curtis’s set design is both stark and imposing, offering an effective juxtaposition with the beautiful external surroundings of Grosvenor Park and the 15 strong cast fill this setting with sheer gusto throughout the performance; impressive considering the actors are currently playing ‘Macbeth’ in repertoire with The Comedy of Errors and The Secret Garden.
From the outset, it is also clear that Director Alex Clifton is keen to put his own stamp on one of Shakespeare’s most overly performed plays. The three witches (played with terrifying conviction by Danielle Bird, Nicola Bird and Max Gallagher) feature heavily in Clifton’s adaptation; taking on the rôles of Banquo’s and Macbeth’s victims of the battlefield in the opening scene through to the assassinators of Macduff’s family later in the play. They also play a key rôle in Macbeth’s own public and private demise, present during the infamous dagger and banquet scenes.
Clifton’s decision to create an almost omnipresent feature of the witches is very successful, consistently driving home the play’s overarching theme of the supernatural. Clifton’s direction also complements Curtis’s set design, making full use of the higher level of the set; offering a safe and distanced location for Macbeth to watch the atrocities of his power-hungry decisions unfold.
Mark Healy turns in a suitably dynamic performance as the ‘mad butcher’ Macbeth, his early swagger and arrogance being offset beautifully with his later descent into tyrannical, blood-thirsty madness; a drunken despot, desperately attempting to cling onto his kingdom. Hannah Barrie delivers a mesmerising performance in Lady Macbeth’s final moments. Her hysteria and guilt are almost tangible and supported by some wonderful performances by Heather Phoenix and Jessica Clark.
Thomas Richardson’s Macduff is particularly strong in his discovery of the murder of his wife and children, where Richardson delivers a truly exposed and vulnerable portrayal of a grieving husband and father, giving extra poignancy to the line ‘But I must also feel it like a man’. A mention also has to be given to Richard Pryal for a captivating performance as Macbeth’s wronged friend Banquo; his chilling physicality during the Banquet scene being a particular personal highlight of the production.
Throw into this successful mix of acting and directing some gripping fight sequences by Philip D’Orleans and an atmospheric musical score by Harry Blake and the result is an original and riveting evening of theatre.
Runs in rep until 23rd August 2014