Review: Macbeth, Crypt of St Andrew, Holborn

“Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, loyal and neutral, in a moment?”

The rise of theatre taking place in found spaces is constantly revealing hidden treasures in locations both familiar and unfamiliar to me: making my way to St Andrew church in Holborn took me through the perplexing (to me at least) geography of Holborn Viaduct where London seems to be on two levels at the same time – it’s like something out of Inception I tell you. Once I’d got past my befuddlement, I made my way to the dark depths of the crypt to take in a production of Macbeth that also poses challenges, but ones my brain was slightly more equipped to deal with.

Baz Productions’ rather unique approach sees the company of five actors dressed in civvies – Scott Brooksbank, Lucy Bruegger, Ffion Jolly, Geoffrey Lumb and Katherine Newman – share text and character out between them in a fluidly changing whirl, actors often switching roles mid-scene and passing on the simple props that denotes their character – a gilet for Macbeth, a red shawl for Lady Macbeth, red gloves for the witches etc. Breaking the play down and piecing it back together this way creates something of a kaleidoscope effect, the fragments constantly turning, changing and refracting the picture back to us in a multitude of ways, some immediately recognisable, others ever so slightly altered.

Each actor brings a different side of the characters’ personalities to bear and all possess an innate confidence in their nuanced verse-speaking and physical performance that is highly captivating and necessary given the way the interpretation plays out. Sometimes it is crystal clear, at others it is a bit messy and there doesn’t seem to be an overarching justification presented to us as we soon come to see that the changes aren’t aiming to be necessarily intuitive and so are quite arbitrary. For me though, I was happy to take it as an ingenious method of demonstrating the complexity of human character and how we all carry parts of these people – or at least the potential to be like them – inside us. In this way, the ensemble really do excel as they combine to evocative strength, not one of them standing out as the individual has been subsumed to form the whole that truly is greater than the sum of its parts.

The breaking down of ‘barriers’ is not in the treatment of the text alone, it is also in the staging. Whether forming a corridor of people or seated on the (carpeted) floor (chairs available too!), there’s a greater sense of intimacy than one would get from simply being seated traditionally. The line delivery comes straight at you at in some cases with direct eye contact for whole speeches; the players mix in with the audience, incorporating some lovely bits of banter from the porter and some whirling free-associating from Ross and Angus; in this way, director Sarah Bedi implies a complicity throughout from the audience, we become part of the kaleidoscopic image too.

It is less of a promenade production than a site-specific one really, we move but intermittently as an audience and only when instructed to, personally I’m fine with this as it simply means less chaos, less rearranging of sightlines in an ever-moving group and it results in a greater appreciation of how the space of this hauntingly atmospheric crypt is being utilised. Carl Prekopp’s soundscape fills the air with eerie sounds, the echoing noises of the witches’ ululations recurring at the significant prophetic moments and there’s also a nice degree of restraint employed, the impact of not showing much of the violence is amplified by the suggestion of what might be happening in the shadows.

It is an interpretation that keeps you on your toes, a familiarity with the story is advisable as the pace, the cuts to the text and the cross-gender castings mean that one needs to be quick-minded throughout. And not all of it works – I’ve never been a fan of Act4 Scene 3, it has threatened to derail almost every Macbeth I’ve ever seen and here there is a mis-step as we move to a video screen to watch Malcolm and Macduff in England, a scene singularly lacking in any of the intimacy or connection that marks the rest of the production.

Productions of Shakespeare’s plays, especially by fresh new companies, are often caught between trying to keep purists happy with relatively traditional interpretations and trying to push artistic boundaries in line with their own ethos. Jericho House’s The Tempest received a fair deal of criticism and largely lukewarm reviews (although not from me) for daring to do things a little differently but when the result of the slavishly traditional approach is Trevor Nunn’s recent production with barely a spark of inspiration in it. Baz Productions’ Macbeth is firmly in the former camp as I am sure you will have worked out by now and so if you are looking for a reverential representation of Shakespeare’s classic then this is probably best avoided. But if you’re able to put preconceived notions of how Macbeth ‘ought’ to be done out of the mind, one can find a most effective reinvention of the play, indicating a propensity for fearless experimentation and detailed exploration that should make Baz Productions a company to watch out for.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Programme cost: £1
Booking until 5th November

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