Be prepared to be wowed by this very different interpretation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and immerse yourself in an inspired play list of classic rock music.

The brilliant, clever backdrop of a sleazy hotel coupled with seamless acting and excellent live music thrilled the audience at The Oxford Playhouse last night for The Watermill Theatre’s opening night of Macbeth.

This story of ambition, murder and witchcraft has certainly had a modern day makeover.

Not for the purists then, but in terms of bringing this classic Shakespearian tragedy alive for the next generation, The Watermill Theatre has nailed it

The creative reimagining of this Shakespeare play by director Paul Hart has its action firmly based in a sleazy, sinister hell hole of a hotel lobby where the neon HOTEL sign periodically loses the light to the O and the T leaving the letters simply as H—EL. The three doors behind the desk of the Porter (the superb Lucy Keirl) all lead to hell.

The Macbeths are a superb match – Emma McDonald is an effortlessly glamorous, powerful, but ultimately damaged Lady Macbeth while Billy Postlethwaite’s Macbeth is darting and fidgety. The sexual tension and desire between them runs ever higher as the desperate violence increases.

A feeling of mounting tension of the forces of evil at work starts to build from the get-go, and the usual trio of witches is portrayed by a number of different players and ghostly voices. This is reinforced by the way the whole cast provides an ongoing pulsing percussion leading the audience seamlessly through this dark story.

With a score of classic rock intensifying the dark drama, this is Macbeth, but not as you know it.

The company fought hard to be granted the rights to use the classic Rolling Stones hit Paint it Black and it is used to indicate a significant shift in Macbeth’s mental state.

The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals introduces us to Macbeth’s castle and the Roy Orbsion classic Dreams is a fitting lullaby in Duncan’s death scene-played by Jamie Satterthwaite. Also on the song list is L-O-V-E by Gregory Porter and Hurt by Johnny Cash.

The use of camouflage and superbly clever and creative set design, lighting and music highlights the way the actors and musicians really own the space and move with incredible fluidity, while adding even more tension and expectation to the production as they appear to look down on the audience one minute and then back to centre stage next.

The casting is also superb, the fragile Lady McDuff, played brilliantly by Emma Barclay, and her steely and determined Macduff, leave us with the image of what the Macbeth family portrait could have been.

Not for the purists then, but in terms of bringing this classic Shakespearian tragedy alive for the next generation, The Watermill Theatre has nailed it.

Sarah Edwards

Macbeth by The Watermill Theatre is at The Oxford Playhouse until Saturday. Tickets at www.oxfordplayhouse.comor 01865 305305

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