BWW Review: MACBETH, Wilton's Music Hall
The curse struck again on press night of The Watermill Theatre's London transfer of Macbeth at Wilton's Music Hall, with Lauryn Redding (allegedly) dislocating both knees during Paul Hart's energetic opening. But a hero was lying low in the audience. Emma Barclay, former Lady Macduff of the project when it was touring the country last year and a guest that evening, took over and delivered the role (and ensemble track) flawlessly and seemingly off book. The show went on to be an electric and sexually charged revisitation of the tragedy.
Hart's production is a quick and ferocious version. His troupe of actor-musicians fill the play with a rock score while songs that span genres and eras accompany the action. From The Rolling Stones to Yelawolf, music is at the centre of this bloodstained Macbeth. Billy Postlethwaite reprises the part with Emma McDonald at his side, the duo introducing a couple whose obsessive inclinations and intense chemistry is evident from the start.
Set in an ambiguous time, it's unrelenting in its pace and enraptures the public in a mere two hours (plus interval). The exceptionally physical nature of the opening develops into a study in violence and passion. Hart uses feverish imagery to convey Shakespeare's thematic threads with projections (by Louise Rhoades-Brown) and lighting design (by Tom White) creating vivid sketches of assassinations and domination.
Classically, Macbeth can either turn into a political drama or focus on the relationships between the figures. Here these become satellites as Hart puts bloodshed under the main spotlight, staining his characters and tying their allegiances and betrayals with it. Postlethwaite is an envious title character; he towers over the other actors as he takes his legacy and destiny in his hands. Boldness overtakes his small insecurities and power goes to his head at the same speed as paranoia and suspicion.
McDonald is a compelling Lady Macbeth with a penchant for tears. She stuns in a red jumpsuit as she grabs the crown from her husband the first chance he gets, straddling him in their bedroom as her lust for status and dominance creep into his mind. Their climb to destruction is scattered with memorable performances by the rest of the cast. Molly Chesworth is a glorious and sensible Malcolm: she plays Duncan's elder child as a strong woman rather than a feminine man or a manly woman, keeping a solid and resolute balance between rationale and humanity.
As Banquo, Robyn Sinclair is a powerful presence. Hart's orchestration of his murder becomes a dance of death, with the Macbeths and assassins kicking off a dramatic choreography. Mike Slader examines masculinity and vindication as Macduff, while Jamie Satterthwaite comes off as a gentle sing-song Duncan who highlights the Bard's musical aptitude. Lucy Keirl is fantastic as the comic relief with an expressive and prompt Porter, while Peter Mooney and Tom Sowinski ground the military aspect of the play as Donalbain and Lennox, respectively.
A clever use of music and specific visuals turn the venerated work into a hip and cool production. Katie Lias designs dark and wooden sets that work perfectly on Wilton's multi-leveled stage; the holes in the run-down wall evoke death with the smokey projections contrived by Rhoades-Brown while David Gregory's sound design and Max Runham's musical direction invigorate the evergreen story.
Once the dynamic between the elements clicks together, songs like The Animal's "The House of the Rising Sun", Stormzy's "Crown", or Johnny Cash's "Hurt" rolling along feel like the most natural choice to convey the tale. Hart has done magnificent work with Macbeth, building an appealing and enticing show that's as visually engaging as it is thematically sound.