Dancing Shadows Theatre Company
Pleasance Theatre, Islington
This darkest of plays is given a set to match (designed by Matt-Sykes Hooban), with unremittingly black walls, black double doors, and gritty black gravel piled up underfoot. Before the play begins, three heaps of, apparently, old rags can be made out in the dim light. Then, as one's eyes adjust to the darkness, is that a human hand? Are these three human bodies, from the battle perhaps?
The play begins, the three piles of rags rise up simultaneously, and turn out to be, not fallen soldiers, but the three witches, who punctuate the play with some hypnotically synchronised movements and sounds. But these are no 'ordinary' witches. As the director explains in his programme notes: 'Back in the ancient times of Macbeth's ancestors, chieftains would order blood sacrifices, innocent victims or outcasts who were garrotted, slashed, and flung into peat bogs to mark tribal boundaries and pacify the gods. Hundreds of years later, three of these sacrifices have risen to the surface to seek vengeance on the last descendant of the men who murdered them. Our witches are twisted, petrified corpses, filled with hatred and cruelty, wracked with agony, but burning in desire to destroy their ancient enemy. As the play continues, the seed of madness they plant in Macbeth's mind ... grows and spreads, as he is slowly rotted and corrupted, becoming a twisted and cruel version of the once noble warrior.'
The Pleasance stage area is small, but the production avoids any sense of clutter by making full use of available space, including the auditorium. A rare lighter moment comes when the drunken Porter (Daniel Jennings) makes an unexpected entry over the backs of the seats and directly addresses individual members of the audience, before falling over backwards onto the stage. And during the banquet scene, some of the cast sit in the front row of the audience, making us feel that we too are invited guests at the interrupted feast. There are lighter points visually too, with the occasional lantern or candle, some atmospherically effective downward spotlighting, especially in the dagger scene, and some contrastingly coloured costumes (designed by Bethan Hopkins and Jeni Roddy), in particular Lady Macduff's creamy white, Lady Macbeth's purple, and Macduff's orange.
The verse speaking is good, though I'd have liked a little more clarity of diction here and there, with a slightly slower delivery at times so that greater weight is given to individual words. But this is a taut, well-paced production from a strong and well-matched cast, with admirable performances from all, including Richard Mark as Macbeth and Heather Wilds as his Lady.
Running until 3rd June
Reviewer: Gill Stoker