Macbeth – St Paul’s Covent Garden – London

Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Daniel Winder
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Stepping into the garden at St Paul’s for Iris Theatre’s annual Shakespearean outing generally gives a little jolt of elation. Seeing what they have constructed this time, what world the garden has become is generally lovely. This time though, it’s not so much a nice surprise as a shock. Sound and sight combine to give a sense of a rotting, twitchingly corrupted wasteland – the flowers masked by greening meat and the recorded clicks of insects feeding adding to the discomfort.

It’s a theme they carry right the way through this intense production of what is already a scary and haunted work. From the beginning where we see the weirdest sisters out there resurrecting the dead Macbeth to the frantic murders, to the wide-eyed invocation of evil by Lady Macbeth before geeing her husband up to murder to the snarling paranoia of the King at rule, the play doesn’t relent, driving on recklessly.

Walking through battlefields, castle keep, feasting rooms, witches lairs and then more bloody halls the audience movement works well here. Following people into battle, acting as a voyeur to an occult visitation, cheering treachery – it’s heady stuff. The surreal and jagged visuals of the set from Alice Channon and the twitching, creepy soundscape created by Filipe Gomes warp the production from a strange and interesting one, into a sinister one.

Returning to the garden after a few years in New York, David Hywel Baynes as Macbeth is just unnerving. He tracks the traitors’ path from ambitious Thane to slain warlord passing through stages of greater inebriation with fear, instability and violence. Setting him on this trail is Lady Macbeth (Mogali Masuku) who almost makes us sympathetic to her plight when she realises the monster her husband has become – no mean feat for this character.

It’s not near perfect, the first half drags a little bit and it feels like it takes a little bit of time to get into its swing. Some unintentionally funny moments break concentration (Hecate’s appearance with the witches is smart and well done, but initially just feels comical, which breaks the spell somewhat). A cracking second half brings the audience into its horrific world fantastically, though, and gives us an intimacy to violence that properly unnerves and entertains.

Runs until 29 July 2017 | Image: Nick Rutter


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