“Upon this blasted heath you stop our way”
Following handsome bearded men down shadowy paths has long been a vocation on Clapham Common but for the next couple of weeks, the entertainment being provided is of a more theatrical bent as the Omnibus presents a promenade production of the Scottish play which leads its audience on a journey both outside and in. It’s a canny, modernised take on Macbeth which makes inventive use of its locale to thrust us right in the midst of the action.
Whether huddled around a bonfire in the empty paddling pool, jammed into a crowded alleyway, guests at the banqueting table or spectators in the midst of hand-to-hand combat, Gemma Kerr’s production is more site-responsive than truly immersive and is the better for it, with less distraction from the bleakness of this world that has been created, where society is crumbling and the privations of long-running war are felt keenly by everyone.
This emerges in little details like Duncan providing his hostess Lady Macbeth with a sneaky pack of contraband fags but also more obviously in the presentation of the witches as homeless people, their babbling chatter easily dismissed until its prophetic allure seizes the attention of battle hero Macbeth. Gregory Finnegan and Samuel Collings’ Banquo share an easy, palpable chemistry as the war-wearied pair pause for breath, only to be sucked into a nightmarish race for power.
Finnegan delivers a combination of charisma and chilling ambition that is equally compelling and disturbing and it is no mystery what Jennifer Jackson’s Lady M sees in him, the bubbling malevolence that first drives her to extreme action takes hold in him in the furious battle scenes of the end. Jackson’s hard-edged anguish is well played, her descent into madness hard to watch, and there’s good support too from Francesca Tomlinson as an unexpectedly moving Ross and Alex Phelps’s preppy Malcolm.
Not surprisingly for a promenade production, the pace sags a little in the one section where we sit uninterrupted for a while, not quite enough drive moving us from scene to scene with a resulting drop in energy for all concerned. But once we’re back on the move, things pick up in Lorna Ritchie’s functional design lit superbly by William Reynolds, who makes hauntingly brilliant use of flickering strip lighting, and build to a brutal finale which offers a tiny shard of hope of breaking the cycle of war and violence. A pleasingly unique take on the perennial classic.