Macbeth – Winterbourne House and Garden, Birmingham

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Peter Stickney

Mop-up your Shakespeare – Rain stops Play. A sentinel row of topiary-sculpted pillar conifers line one side of the arboreal auditorium, formations subliminally suggestive of a brooding Birnam Woods in waiting. Set upon a ‘blasted heath’ might be doing the internationally renowned Winterbourne Gardens a slight disservice – ’Is this a dibber I see before me?’ However, the name ‘Winterbourne’ gains apposite, wry irony as the evening unfolds.

With the strap-line Authenticity, Excellence and Magic, the seven-man ensemble touring Lord Chamberlain’s Men is setting its ‘vaulting ambition’ bar very high. Mean-whilst, the Met Office and Fate have other plans. Something wicked indeed is this way coming. Brave be those who would scoff at the Scottish Play’s hexed reputation.

Browsing the performance programme’s technical credits, Special Effects read, ‘God’! The rain enhances a rust-streaked static set – part-symbolic-throne, part-castle-keep (Morgan Brind, Set/Costume). Its minimalist, Cubist monolith tableau is shrewdly underscored by stage-level up-lighting. Serendipity has it that as both plot and lamps heat up, contorting, Jack o’Lantern mists swirl above them. A measure of this seasoned troupe is the clarity of diction and projection of voice notwithstanding Satan’s clattering rain-dance drum solo on stage and set.

These work with chilling effect during the early soliloquies of Ronnie Yorke’s Macbeth, further, enhancing Rhys Warrington’s Lady Macbeth. ‘Her’ lean, angular features wax and wane with serpentine deception as she slithers and slivers her murderous intents between her loving husband’s chinks of ‘amour’ following his – ‘We will proceed no further in this business.’

Moreover, Yorke projects a compelling, toxic exposition of primal scream confessional loyalty wrestling with a near-psychotic, feral, pack-dominance desire. This hyper-petulant sense of outraged indignation, on-going serial-killing rampage notwithstanding, is seemingly marred by failures always the fault of others. Just as well he didn’t have access to Social Media blame forums. Meanwhile, inevitably, demonstrably, rain, blood and insinuating, incremental guilt begins to saturate Lady Macbeth to withering effect as her Faustian Pact submits its butcher’s bill. Disturbingly convincing.

After some fifty minutes of valiantly suffered deluge, both cast and likewise, utterly drenched audience, are at their wets(sic) end and agree, the hurly-burly’s done for them. It’s time to pull the plug. One and all are agreed it is neither safe nor fun any longer. Even the well-received references to ‘Thunder/Lightning/Rain’ are losing their comic distractions. Artistic Director, Peter Stickney, would need to have a heart of stone to admonish the Three Witches grinning with grim resignation as, in any actor’s once in a lifetime dream of a cue, the prophetic When shall we three meet again? is punctuated by synchronous thunderclaps and streaks of malevolent lightning – rain being a given. Mega-voltage lightning, soaking-wet stage and electrics anyone?  ‘The Scottish Play’ indeed.

Raise then a tankard of finest sack and toast this band of brothers, men of noble breed, cocking a snook at Fate, biting their thumb at all midsummer’s murderous weather might throw at them.

On tour until 29 August 2021

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Rain Stopped Play

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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