William Shakespeare
Chichester Festival production
Minerva Theatre, Chichester

Production photo

It is always a pleasure to visit Chichester - to admire the stately cathedral, indulge in a little quality retail therapy and, on a pleasant day, enjoy a picnic amid the greenery of Oakland Park where the two theatres nestle conveniently between town and parkland. Yesterday was such a day with clear blue skies and warm sunshine – at last summer had returned and there was time to relax listening to the birds singing and the distant sounds of the local youth enjoying a game of football. All was peace and tranquillity!

Then - into the auditorium and, with darkness, smoke, and the thunder of mortar fire shaking the very foundations of the small Minerva theatre we are brought to earth with a shock and into the middle of a war zone where three nurses urgently rush in pushing a trolley where a profusely bleeding captain delivers his speech extolling the glories of war before his heart monitor ceases its bleeping. He is dead, and the nurses begin their incantation - “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble” - around the body. The three witches are a presence throughout this performance, serving at the feast or as passengers on a train, all the while watching impassively as their predictions come to pass. Their cauldrons are cadavers, the seething mixture of human emotions not quite dead within them as they writhe and jerk at the relentless hypnotic chanting.

Patrick Stewart is Macbeth. Striding in fresh from battle and exhilarated by his victory, he is delighted to find the witches' predictions coming true and that King Duncan has given him promotion, but his thoughts are evident in his face as greed and ambition take over and it seems there are only two people between him and the crown. Just get rid of them and another of the predictions will become fact. As his conscience begins to bother him at the thought of murder in comes Lady Macbeth with no conscience at all.

This is Kate Fleetwood, cold, calculating and avaricious with a grasping ambition which surpasses his, and a determination to achieve her goal whatever the cost as she cajoles her reluctant husband to commit murder, berating him for his unwillingness and taunting him for his lack of manliness So convincing is she in her role that it almost seems an incongruity when, concerned with the blood which she cannot wash from her hands, she gives an ear piercing shriek when seeing blood, instead of water, gush from the tap. No one sleeps in this chillingly, thrillingly dramatic production – not even the dead.

Each scene explodes into being as a short, sharp shock, the frenzied action tightly controlled and orchestrated by director Rupert Goold, with movement by Georgina Lamb. Almost the only light relief is provided by the porter who, finding himself ostensibly at the gates of hell, amuses himself by shining his torch on individual members of the audience, inviting them to come out there and ‘equivocate’ as all the characters have been doing. Rather a touch of pantomime here.

There are small domestic touches too, with Banquo’s son Fleance helping himself to a piece of cake from the fridge, and Macbeth incongruously making a sandwich for the murderers while instructing them in their duties.

The costumes are mostly modern battle fatigues, with the generals in Russian greatcoats, the exception being a dinner party to welcome the king, a prelude to his murder, with an elegantly attired Lady Macbeth being the gracious hostess, but evident beneath the façade is a cold-hearted, calculating woman. Macbeth is doing his best to light-heartedly entertain his guests until the illusion of normality is shattered when the blood streaked murdered Banquo strides across the table in front of him with ghostly images and blood splattered walls – courtesy of Lorna Heavey’s video footage.

This action-packed thrilling production is at Chichester, performing in repertory, until 1st September. From bloody murder to lyrical love, the same excellent cast will perform Twelfth Night from 14th July.

Philip Fisher reviewed this priduction on its transfer to the Gielgud Theatre

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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