Walking the Bard / Macbeth

William Shakespeare
Chalice Media
St George's Hall Liverpool

As venues for any sort of event, it doesn’t get much grander than Liverpool’s spectacular St George’s Hall. Chalice Media’s choice of venue for its Shakespearean double bill then is nothing if not dramatic, nothing if not epic.

The first leg—Walking the Bard—takes us underground, into catacombs and corridors where a host of Shakespearean stalwarts assail the senses. While a hysterical Lady Macbeth is encountered haunting the corridors, nearby, Hamlet muses on the pros and cons of existence.

Chalice Media certainly exploits the many nooks and crannies of its host venue for this, what amounts to a Shakespearean tableau. Viola, Cleopatra, gothic witches and the gravedigger from Hamlet are also resurrected in the bowels of this grand old building.

Reminiscent of Tussauds or the London Dungeon, Walking the Bard is an energetic appetiser. For the most part, scenes are crisply enacted and timed rather well, not too much nor too little.

At just about an hour, this walking tour of Shakespeare is just enough to whet the appetite. Yes, a stronger thematic link would almost certainly help to frame the tour, but there’s a lot to admire here. The young actors certainly give it a whole lot of welly.

Then it’s over to the other side of the building for Macbeth. Accessed by a winding staircase, the Concert Room is a statement arena: a circular room of golden engravings that has not only hosted some of classical music’s greatest pieces, but a room that Charles Dickens described as "the most perfect room in the world".

This production of Macbeth certainly starts with a bang: an ear-splitting hip-hop bang. Seconds later and the stage is swarming with performers. Now the decision to kick this off with hip-hop and mime is an artistic decision as bold as it is daring, but what about that stage?

On entering this room, it’s quite a shock to discover that the commodious central performance space has disappeared under the sheer weight of temporary chairs. Meanwhile, the tiered seating that skirts this wonderful space is virtually empty, the audience having been crammed into the middle.

Oh dear. Talk about an open goal. Thus, instead of the action taking place in this wonderful central area—truly Shakespeare in-the-round—performers are banished to the hinterlands, to the altar. For a moment, it feels like Holy Communion.

Thereafter, this production tends to play it safe. While one always yearns for something radical from a Shakespeare production, sad to report such longings are rarely, if ever at all, actually met. Chalice produces a solid enough version here, but it’s the type of production you might have seen umpteen times before.

Performers are vigorous and enthusiastic throughout, but with such wholly fresh faces it’s difficult to escape the notion of sixth form Shakespeare—a skinny-jeaned Macbeth. Gravitas of course only comes with experience, but time is on Chalice’s side.

Having said that, these young actors do show plenty of promise. The lead actor (no programme supplied) undertaking the title role is a model of composure throughout and could well have a very bright future. Likewise, the supporting cast can’t be faulted in terms of commitment.

Think of this Macbeth as a rights-of-passage production.

Reviewer: David Sedgwick