DramaFeaturedReviewSouth Coast

Macbeth – Theatre Royal Brighton

Reviewer: Thom Punton

Performed by: Paul O’Mahony and Hannah Barrie

Directed by: Mike Tweddle

As part of a new production arm led by ATG Creative Learning which aims to breathe new life into the classics for the next generation of theatregoers, Hove-based theatre company Out of Chaos present a stripped-down 80 minute version of Macbeth with all characters handled by just two performers. It’s an impressive, action-packed spectacle that showcases the physicality and versatility of the two actors, as well as the power of effective lighting and sound design.

To help the audience along, the performers, Paul O’Mahony and Hannah Barrie, announce the exit and entrance of the characters. This artifice is especially useful at the outset, and whether intentional or not, there’s a sense of guests being announced at a banquet, which suits the royal setting. When more than two characters are present in the scene, O’Mahony and Barrie dart from one position to another to switch between characters, which is very effective. As the trope of one person playing more than one character is very common in Shakespeare performances anyway, it feels like a natural extension of that tradition.

The stage is bare, leaving the scene-setting to the lighting (Ashley Bale) and sound design (Matt Eaton). There are moody blue washes and windy soundscapes for the Scottish moors where Macbeth meets the witches and vivid green uplighting as the Birnam woods encroach on the desperate king. There’s also very effective use of spotlighting to create the illusion of rectangular light patches projected by castle windows, and to heighten particularly intense dramatic moments.

Whilst tonight’s performance is mostly played straight there are moments when the darting about of the performers from character to character comes across as comedic and the closest we have to a clown is Ross, a thane who embodies the nervous obsequiousness of someone who knows he might be offed by the unhinged power couple at any moment. And then there’s almost a hint of panto at times when a spotlight illuminates a random audience member who is nominated to represent a messenger or similar minor character and answer a yes or no question of the actor.

There are plenty of moments that demonstrate the expertise of the actors and the production team led by director Mike Tweddle. Though there’s not always the chance in those 80 minutes to let the tension build to its full insanity, it never feels like the plot has been left incoherent. Someone who has never seen the play before might be confused by the number of characters at the beginning, but this is par for the course for Shakespeare, and as the company dwindles this becomes less of a problem. For a show aimed at a younger audience most likely studying the play at school it will open up new avenues of imagination, showing a more modernist approach to performance where there’s more to live Shakespeare than ruffs and wooden sword fights.

Runs until 26 March 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Action-packed, slimline success

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