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Review: Macbeth @ Bristol Old Vic

Macbeth: a tale of betrayal, blood, and bedlam, whose name evokes fear in actors and audiences alike, takes the stage once again, though this student production was everything but ‘foul’ and undeniably ‘fair.’

By Evelyn Heis, Film & TV Columnist

Macbeth: a tale of betrayal and blood, whose name evokes fear in actors and audiences alike, takes the stage once again. Though, this student production was everything but ‘foul’ and undeniably ‘fair.’

As a play with a myriad of adaptations, it was intriguing to see how award-winning director Ng Choon Ping would approach the Scottish play and incorporate his own theatrical twist. Alongside set-designer Choy-Ping Clarke-Ng, whose creative presentation was evidently striking throughout, the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s production is one of the most innovative and inclusive adaptations of Macbeth that has graced the stage.

Taking place in The Weston Studio, Bristol Old Vic’s latest addition, this compact and intimate space was the perfect location for Ping’s adaptation which seamlessly explored the boundary between cast and audience. From cast members entering and exiting through gaps in the audience, dragging props by our feet, to the evocative soliloquies that coaxed a feeling of being an integral part of the production, this immersive stage created a sensory experience that made us feel like gallants on an early modern stage.

Joe Usher, cast in the leading role of Macbeth, gave an exceptional performance that was raw and convincing, depicting Macbeth’s inner turmoil and descent into madness impeccably. His co-protagonist, Camilla Aiko, as Lady Macbeth, was equally as successful, portraying the Lady as cunning, composed, and tactful- a girlboss, if you will. Working effortlessly well together, Aiko and Usher did the Macbeth's passionate relationship justice.

With their entrance marked by flashing lights and thunder, the three witches, Evie Hargreaves, Joséphine-Fransilja Brookman and Carlie Diamond, emerged from the dark, epitomising the uncanny through their frightening and powerful presence. From the way they laughed and held themselves on stage, to the frenzied look on their faces as they chanted in tongues with their long, hooded cloaks, their performances were unforgettable. No doubt a foretelling of the compelling action that was to come.

Notably, King Duncan’s role was reversed to that of ‘Queen’, played by Ruby Ward who did a fantastic job, subsequently stealing the limelight every time she stood on the stage in her beaded gown and neck ruffle. Bill Caple gave a bold and memorable performance of the loyal Banquo, particularly in the Banquet Scene where he emerged from the table in Macbeth’s terrifying hallucination.

The rest of the cast, whose performances were equally as enjoyable, did not fail to impress in their portrayals of Macduff (Joshua Harley), Malcolm (Max Guest), Rosse (Alexander Uzoka), Lennox (Eve Pereira), Fleance (Carlie Diamond), and the murderers (Tom Atkinson and Phoebe Cook), remaining utterly compelling throughout and delivering each line with precision.

And just when things were getting a bit too tense in the Macbeth household, in entered the Porter, Joe Edgar, dressed as vibrant Jester who provided numerous laughs from the moment he stumbled onto the stage to when he brought out a giant penis plushie.

Indeed, the cast deserve an honourable mention alone for playing multiple characters, switching costumes in between and embodying each role with perfection, paying homage to The King Men’s classic and frequent use of ‘doubling.’

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The ensemble's brilliant acting was elevated by the impressive use of lighting which controlled the ambience of every scene. Lighting designer, Mary Bennett, added a level of depth to the production, utilising particular colours to elicit an outward reflection of the character’s mental states and apprehensions of the supernatural. Bennett’s skilful use of lighting contributed immensely to the tone of the play, immersing us in the setting completely.

Synthesised with simplistic props and a stage that holds water in the midst of it, acting both as the Witches’ cauldron and Lady Macbeth’s sink, the production was truly marked by its originality and brought to life by the actors. With its bending of gender roles, masterful use of timing and an array of vivacious cast and crew, this adaptation of Macbeth was refreshing and a delight to watch.

Featured Image: Epigram

What theatre have you checked out in Bristol this term?