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Review of Shakespeare’s Macbeth @thegatearts

October 28, 2015

Review by Lucy Menon @LucyMenon

Performed by: The Pantaloons
Directed by: Stephen Purcell
Produced by: Mark Hayward and Caitlin Storey
Venue: The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff
Date: Thrusday 22nd October 2015

Before attending this production, a quick glance at the length and breadth of their proposed tour gave me the impression that this was certainly a company in demand. From Yorkshire to Essex, The Pantaloons have a “one night only” show across the country for over a month so it gives you plenty of chance to catch them somewhere, and I can highly recommend that you do.

In a season where Macbeth seems to be in vogue, with the latest Fassnebender film offering (which I have yet to see, but do intend to), I felt that this comic interpretation of “the Scottish Play” was the perfect antithesis to something that is essentially a psychological thriller with a very high body count! Channelling the film noir tradition as well as the gangster genre with some stand-up comedy thrown in for good measure, the company evoked a wonderful atmosphere that involved the audience directly but still managed to maintain a believable story-telling narrative.

On entering, the cast were already playing musical instruments and chatting with the audience which established the pantomime aspect of the production. They introduced the play with a song about “the curse of Macbeth”. Dressed in suits and braces, reminiscent of gangsters, the costuming helped to establish the idea of a murky underworld which worked well for the nature of Macbeth. It was a very small performance area but The Pantaloons proved how a minimal set does not mean minimal results: most of the cast had multiple roles but, through small costume changes and vocal alteration, each of these roles were clearly developed and there was no confusion over characterisation. The Weird Sisters were puppets with eerie faces which provided an apt spookiness as they were indeed disembodied creatures that were able to disappear suddenly.

The company also had ingenious ideas such as using torches for headlights to mimic a car, spraying a bottle of water into the air and saying, “it was drizzling”, rustling a plastic bag next to a microphone to give the impression of rain and having Kelly Griffiths pretend to be a lamppost by holding a light above Hannah Ellis when she was narrating as Malcolm! By taking motifs such as these, that the audience are familiar with, and putting a twist on it, the humour of the situation was evoked with ease and to great effect. One instance of this was when Malcolm switched to become Narrator-Malcolm and the other characters seemed shocked by what was said and then this was countered with, “You can’t hear me, I’m narrating.” Another example was when the cast responded to real time events, such as an audience member knocking over a cup, which, despite breaking the fourth wall of performance, actually enhanced the production. The ability of the cast to retain control of the situation was exceptional as such improvisation had the potential to disrupt, or at least interrupt, the flow of narrative but they stayed in charge of the tale and the darkness of Macbeth was sustained.

There were some nice touches including Ross (Alex Rivers) dusting the chair for Duncan (Kelly Griffiths) and shaving him too: it was comical yet also made the situation more believable. Alex Rivers switched between being Ross the dogsbody to a rather chilling Lady Macbeth and delivered the lines with a seriousness that belied the comedy of the earlier role. I felt her to be very much in control of the language and she demonstrated the power dynamic in the relationship that Lady Macbeth has over her husband extremely well. It is made evident that the couple care deeply for each other through frequent physical contact such as face stroking, but it was also revealed to be a disturbing force that in the end, propels them to commit murder.

Darkness and light were put to great effect in this production: a shadow of a dagger was seen to be present during Macbeth’s famous soliloquy of “Is this a dagger I see before me?” and as different cast members were on different sides of the stage, it seemed as if Macbeth was surrounded by this dark presence. This was carried through into the second half where a lot of the action was played out in torch light which emphasised the ideas of sleep, danger, secrets and confusion associated with the darkness.

Sound effects and music were also put to good use with chilling keyboards running through high and low notes in a disturbing fashion, wood blocks, “owl” screeching, drums for footsteps all helped to increase the tension during Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s speech after they have executed their plans. I actually felt my own heart beating which goes to show how the atmosphere was intensified and this was also reflected in the pace of the speech of the characters. Re-entering with red gloves on to symbolise the bloodshed, Lady Macbeth began to speak far more quickly, whereas Macbeth slowed down to the point he sounded dazed and drunk. Lady Macbeth seems to be genuinely frustrated with her husband and the pair engage in what can be seen as a real domestic argument, albeit on this occasion on the rather more surreal subject of the murder they have just committed.

The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff

The Porter (Kelly Griffiths) managed to engage the audience (all the more entertaining as certain people were obviously more responsive than others at being involved directly) and cracked several groan-worthy jokes which were well received. The humour was heightened by the fact that Macduff (Neil Jennings) responded in a deadpan and uninterested manner to any attempts the Porter made to be funny. Macbeth also manages to undercut Macduff’s tale of how horrific things have been by simply saying, “rough night” which injected an element of humour to the otherwise very solemn narrative.

The re-enactment of a busy train station to signify Malcolm’s journey away from Scotland was well planned out and once again added a wonderful touch of realism to a play that often becomes quite supernatural. The improvisation of using the earlier stories from the audience members as “news” hawked by the paper-seller at the station was great. Having a completely incoherent tanoy changing the train departure platform at the last minute from 1 to 33 also elicited laughs due to the fact that we can all identify with the situation.

There were exquisite moments of bathos in this production delivered through wonderful lines such as “Banquo, park the motor” and “Macbeth lurked outside soliloquising” which was a great way to set up the scene and really struck a chord with anyone that has ever studied Shakespeare and wondered why all these brooding characters seem to be talking to themselves!

Christopher Smart delivered a suitably conflicted Macbeth with a commanding stage presence: at one point coming right into the audience and almost touching several people while he is delivering his speech which draws individuals into empathising with him. The lines were delivered convincingly and Macbeth’s mental turmoil is established well and we see him waver over the decision to kill.

The Macbeths

During the second half, the Porter brought round shots of wine for the audience and gave us lines to involve us in the banquet scene. This was clever as it meant that as Macbeth suffered his mental breakdown of seeing Banquo at the meal we were exposed to it as guests at a party and it made it seem all the more uncomfortable.

There was further amusement derived from the saxophone player being shot to shut him up and then he shuffled himself off stage along the floor which caused the audience to laugh and was also accompanied by one of the cast saying “Don’t encourage him!” which just made it all the funnier.

A special commendation goes to Neil Jennings’ portrayal of Macduff hearing the news about the murder of his wife and children as his reactions were incredibly well acted and his distress was made clear through anger as well as an almost tearful response that was not over exaggerated. The final fight scene between Macduff and Macbeth was incredible and extremely well choreographed to the point I felt it was so realistic it made for uncomfortable viewing.

Concluding with the “curse of Macbeth” song that they had started with, the cast managed to make a well rounded narrative of an age-old tale by infusing it with interesting and inventive modern twists. The pantomime techniques add an air of spontaneity and thus means that each performance will be unique in some way which adds to the charm of this company. Go and see it…if you dare!

Find out more here

Tour Dates:

Wednesday 28 October
7:30pm
Hedingham Castle
HALSTEAD, Essex, CO9 3DJ
01787 460 261

Thursday 29 October
7:30pm
The Lights
ANDOVER, Hampshire, SP10 1AH
01264 368 368

Friday 30 October
7:30pm
The Bacon Theatre
CHELTENHAM, Gloucestershire, GL51 6HE
01242 258 002

Sunday 1 November
7:00pm
The Watermark
IVYBRIDGE, Devon, PL21 0SZ
01752 892 220

Tuesday 3 November
7:30pm
Palace Theatre
NEWARK, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1JY
01636 655755

Wednesday 4 November
7:30pm
Guildhall Arts Centre
GRANTHAM, Lincolnshire, NG31 6PZ
01476 406 158

Thursday 5 November
7:30pm
Cranleigh Arts Centre
CRANLEIGH, Surrey, GU6 8AS
01483 278 000

Friday 6 November
8:00pm
Brookside Theatre
ROMFORD, Essex, RM1 3NH
01708 755 775

Saturday 7 November
8:00pm
Brookside Theatre
ROMFORD, Essex, RM1 3NH
01708 755 775

Thursday 12 November
7:30pm
Gulbenkian Theatre
CANTERBURY, Kent, CT2 7NB
01227 769 075

Friday 13 November
7:30pm
Memorial Hall
DEREHAM, Norfolk, NR19 2DJ
01362 696943

Saturday 14 November
7:30pm
The Place
BEDFORD, Bedfordshire, MK40 3DE
01234 354 321

Sunday 15 November
8:00pm
Drayton Arms
LONDON, Greater London, SW5 0LJ
020 7835 2301

Monday 16 November
8:00pm
Drayton Arms
LONDON, Greater London, SW5 0LJ
020 7835 2301

Tuesday 17 November
8:00pm
Artrix
BROMSGROVE, Birmingham, B60 1AX
01527 577 330

Thursday 19 November
7:30pm
Pomegranate Theatre
CHESTERFIELD, Derbyshire, S41 7TX
01246 345 222

Friday 20 November
7:30pm
Braintree Arts Theatre
BRAINTREE, Essex, CM7 1WY
01376 556 354

Saturday 21 November
7:30pm
St Peters by the Waterfront
IPSWICH, Suffolk, IP1 1XF
01473 225 269

Sunday 22 November
7:00pm
Dilham Village Hall
NORTH WALSHAM, Norfolk, NR28 9PT
01692 536 666
SOLD OUT!

Tuesday 24 November
7:30pm
Mumford Theatre
CAMBRIDGE, Cambs, CB1 1PT
0845 196 2320

Wednesday 25 November
7:30pm
Mumford Theatre
CAMBRIDGE, Cambs, CB1 1PT
0845 196 2320

Thursday 26 November
8:00pm
Trinity Theatre
TUNBRIDGE WELLS, Kent, TN1 1JP
01892 678 678

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