William Shakespeare
Feelgood Theatre Productions
Heaton Park, Manchester

Faz Singhateh as Macbeth

On its fifteenth anniversary, Manchester-based Feelgood Theatre has teamed up with Theatre Under Fire, which was created in Leeds in 2006 by artists who had fled from the political turmoil in Zimbabwe, for an outdoor promenade production of one of Shakespeare's darkest and most intense plays.

In the lush, green setting of Heaton Park on the edge of Bury in Manchester, scenes from Macbeth are placed in different locations on grassy banks, under trees or in front of buildings, which the audience walks between when directed by a very efficient guide. The scenes, designed by Lucy Frost, utilise the existing environment of the park dressed with props, tents, flags and other objects to create appropriate settings.

Unfortunately, during this reviewed performance the rain was constant, varying only from heavy drizzle to torrential until it stopped a few minutes before the end, which was not just unpleasantly damp for everyone but also made the uneven ground very muddy and slippery, causing performers and spectators to stumble a few times.

Weather aside, this promenade mode of performance is very different from sitting in a darkened theatre staring up at a stage. Actors and audiences share the same dwindling light, the pace is entirely different as there may be a break of several minutes between scenes for the audience to catch up with the action and sound does not carry as well in the open air as inside. These are not necessarily bad things, but they do require a different state of mind when viewing the performance.

The chosen settings work very well here and give a unique atmosphere to this claustrophobic and dark (literally as well as metaphorically) play. Voices do tend to disappear at times if you don't stand in a good position with female voices affected more than male voices.

Faz Singhateh is a strong Macbeth who never has any problems projecting his voice and his character across these outdoor spaces. Chris Hollinshead also gives a powerful performance as Macduff, the scene where he finds out his family has been murdered being especially moving. Peter Mutanda is good as a very suspicious Banquo. Director and co-adapter Caroline Clegg also appears onstage as Lady Macbeth, who, although not always entirely audible against the sounds of the wind in the trees and the rain on umbrellas, provides a powerful foil for her ambitious husband.

Combining African design and movement with seedy western cabaret, the three witches are very lively and playful as portrayed by Eve Robertson, Louisa Eyo and Thembelenkonsini Moyo, with the latter providing much of the constant percussive soundtrack with a drum beneath his waterproof cape.

The text, as adapted by Caroline Clegg and Richard Ashton, is cut quite heavily with some chopping within the verse structure, which may not please purists, but there is enough for the story to survive and make sense in a performance setting where not every word is likely to be heard and savoured as well as it can be in a theatre. There are a few songs to set the scene which have a strong African beat and sense of harmony, including a song to start and finish that draws together the play with places in Manchester and Zimbabwe. There is also an impressive firework that comes in perfectly on cue at the declaration of the new king during the last scene.

It is necessary to dress appropriately and expect mud and rain or it could be quite a miserable experience, but a decent hooded waterproof and some boots (umbrellas cause severe restriction to visibility to all behind you) are all that you really need, although if you can be bothered to carry around a folding chair, you will be reserved a space at the front for each scene. While not as intense an experience as it can be in the theatre, this Macbeth is a fascinating and well-put-together production that allows you to experience the play in a totally different way that is well worth the effort.

Reviewer: David Chadderton

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