BWW Reviews: MACBETH, Balfron Tower, July 4 2014
It's an unlikely venue for Shakespeare, a 24-storey 60s tower block in East London. But for the talented Rift Company's new production of Macbeth it creates perfect setting for innovative and intimate theatre.
You arrive at border control, where Uri and his team of guards from a cold war communist nation of Borduria provide you with transit passes and the Bordurian rand you'll need to buy drinks inside.
There is a hotel feel to this Macbeth, reminiscient of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with plenty of bell hops on hand to look after each group in their assigned flats (named after Scottish areas such as Falkirk and Edinburgh). But before you get to your room (and reunited with your belongings - you'll need to bring something comfortable to sleep in and toothbrush and toothpaste) you have enter the Rift through a derelict basement car park.
And here the play begins, as Macbeth and Banquo meet the three witches. Unlike other immersive theatre projects, such as Punchdrunk's The Drowned Man, this production stays pretty true to the text. You realise early on that this isn't going to be simply an interpretation - you are really here to watch a play, just in a completely new way.
When you make it into Balfron Tower the attention to details is second to none. Rooms have been furnished and decorated, pictures of the King adorn the walls (and it always seems to be the right king no matter where in the play we've got to). The bar and restaurant are also superb and really add to the atmosphere.
The audience are actively encouraged to get to know each other and some of the cast (the incredibly hard working and enthusiastic bell hops dealing with the logistics needed to keep the show moving whilst remaining in character the whole time). Some sections of the performance stray from the text and directly involve the audience, whilst the rest of the time we watch the action take place in front of us, in our very own flats - with the cast visiting throughout the night.
With such an in-your-face production, the acting needs to be spot-on and this cast doesn't disappoint. Macbeth (Matthew Neal) and Lady Macbeth (Elly Condron) deliver perfectly pitched performances, Condron particularly impressive as the guilt drives her to insanity and suicide.
Such a show requires carefully choreographed timing as each flat needs to see each scene - pre-shot videos are used to fill in key scenes and to help things run smoothly and these can be a little hit and miss - the news channel-style talking heads offering commentary on the negotiations between Malcolm and Macduff feels clunky. And we're left watching a loop of soldiers attacking the tower and searching for Macbeth for quite sometime before we see the usurper king's final battle.
But this doesn't detract from a wonderfully inventive and accomplished night of theatre - offering everything from the comic to gruesome. And it's capped off perfectly with a roof-top breakfast and a fantastic view of London. A must see show.