“Can amateurs really do Shakespeare as well as professionals? Is it going to be any good? ” These two questions were niggling in the back of my mind as I sat down in the intimate Bridewell Theatre for a steampunk themed Macbeth. A friend was stage-managing and the photos looked awesome, so I had high hopes. Perhaps this time to understand it (my last dalliance and with The Scottish Play was at the Globe, everyone bar Lady M were wearing tuxedos and I couldn’t even tell which one was Macbeth, let alone any others).
The steampunk military and mechanical styling with dramatic lighting work well as as a setting – the attention to detail is pretty impressive given that they don’t have a megabucks West End budget. But this is a show with both style AND substance. Director Chloe Faine (having played Lady Macbeth herself) has chosen a strong and capable cast – it is clear that she has a good grasp of the play and how to best present this to modern ears.
Macbeth (Daniel Bogod) is suitably gutless; while he has some glimmer of ambition to be king, he doesn’t really have the drive to go through with the murder, nor is he that comfortable even when he seems to have got away with it. With every subsequent murder, he becomes ever more desperate to hold onto his crown, to fulfil the witches’ prophecy. His cause isn’t helped by his malevolent wife, Lady Macbeth (Sarah Peachey) who switches between sultry and scheming with great ease, trying every possible method to get her husband to grow a pair. She holds great command of the stage and her soliloquies show her as a single-minded woman, hell-bent on being queen at any cost.
The gruesome task is made no easier by the fact that he has to kill Duncan (Will Harrison-Wallace) who makes for a very engaging, warm-hearted king. Duncan’s son, Malcolm (Douglas Baker) has a cherubic face and plays the part with great naivety, still young enough to want to stick to his ideals, not yet corrupted by the machinations of politics.
It is of course Hecate and the weird sisters (Robert J Stanex, Sarah Beebe, Sarah Heenan and James Bretherton) who play a pivotal role, indicating to Macbeth his possible options – the simple act of sliding on and off their single spiked welding goggle indicates to the audience when they are invoking their magic and when they are blending into the crowd. Their only agenda seems to be to wreak havoc and mischief in the mortal world and their presence is deliciously unnerving.
Banquo (Christopher Warren) makes a gentle giant of his character – tame, without being a pushover. His murder simply fuels Macbeth’s unease with what he has started. Macduff (Stuart McMillan – originally from Glasgow) laces his lines with rich Highland tones and there is a great contrast between his initial calmness and his descent into furious rage at the murder of his wife, Lady Macduff (Fran Rafferty) who makes a great job of a very small part. This production doesn’t pull its punches on the gore; the gutteral groans as she is mercilessly butchered by the witches genuinely turned my stomach.
The sword fighting towards the end did seem a little careful at times, but once the foils were knocked from their hands, the violence of bare-hands-combat is tangible, with the two men stamping on feet and booting each other in the ribs. This is a very accessible production of the play, delivered with great understanding – the haunting doom-laden steampunk styling is a nice touch, but this still deserves to be seen in its own right. I will be keeping an eye on Sedos (they are the resident theatre company at the Bridewell) – their upcoming 2014 season appeals to me.
Macbeth is on at the Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8EQ until Saturday 2nd November including a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. More information and tickets available from http://www.sedos.co.uk