Writer: William Shakespeare
Directors: Ben Horslen and John Risebero
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Macbethis such a difficult play to get right and with so many elements to marshal, the overall effect can often drain the play of its dramatic energy. Macbethis an intensely psychological play, one that must chart the non-linear progress of the anti-hero while considering the agency of the central characters in the context of the supernatural forces that Shakespeare uses to frame the action. With this in mind and several high profile failures including a star-studded National Theatre production, how have Antic Disposition made it look so easy?
Their new production is set in the evocative surroundings of Temple Church on a traverse stage that cuts the congregation in two – for we are a congregation here to worship their impressive rendering of this tricky play. As it opens, Macbeth is a celebrated war hero, decorated by his friend the King of Scotland whose kingdom a strange prophesy dictates Macbeth will inherit and he murders Duncan that very night. With the crown now upon his head, Macbeth unleashes his darkest fears and a terrible toll for his people.
From the opening moments of Ben Horslen and John Risebero’s production it’s clear that they know exactly the version of Macbeththey want to perform, bringing precision to the storytelling as well as purpose to the staging decisions that are crucial to success. Abandoning accents and relocated to the nineteenth-century, the three witches (Louise Templeton, Bryony Tebbutt and Robyn Holdaway) are thoughtfully and effectively utilised across the evening, becoming servants, washerwomen and even the various messengers delivering news to the court. The approach emphasises an external control guiding events to their inevitable conclusion with the witches sweeping across the stage during the battles and positioned in the background of many crucial scenes like sinister puppeteers.
The company have clearly thought carefully about the Macbeth’s interior state and the moments of crisis in the play which Risebero has lit with particular care, focusing intently on the soliloquies in blues and soft white, while bathing the stage in red for the aftermath of Duncan’s off-stage demise. Composer James Burrows’ score and sound design is so subtle that you hardly notice how music is used to heighten the tension within a scene, a film-like quality that changes the mood on an almost empty set.
Some very big names have played the title role in recent years with mixed success but Harry Anton is the best Macbeth London has seen in a while. He is a commanding presence, a war hero still dangerously attractive to his wife, but there is something beneath the skin, an animalistic quality that drives his behaviour, making him believe he is in control. Anton takes his time over the soliloquies, tracing every allusion and reference, using the rhythm to convey the sentiment of every speech while his voice mellifluously demands you attention. There is a wonderful clarity to his perspective and Anton really understands every fluctuation in Macbeth’s purpose, the flickering doubts, the dictatorial certainties and the complete unravelling of his mind as his fortunes rise and fall throughout the play.
Helen Millar’s Lady Macbeth is a more social creature, able to put on a show for those around her. The control she suggests early in the play dissipates as Macbeth essentially abandons her so the production’s perspective on her culpability is ultimately less clear than it could be. There is notable support from Andrew Hislop’s MacDuff and Peter Collis as Banquo, while Chris Courtenay makes the poor Duncan an innocent victim of the Macbeth’s dastardly ambition.
The show suffers a little in the middle of the second half when the action decamps to England and every moment that Anton’s Macbeth is absent from the stage the energy dips slightly, but Antic Disposition have used the setting of Temple Church to great effect, creating an intimate but classic drama the force of which echoes beautifully around this building. Gripping, considered and dangerous with a superb central performances, big playhouse take note, this is how you stage Macbeth!
Runs Until: 28 September 2019 | Image: Scott Rylander