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  • Miles Hedley

MACBETH at Greenwich Theatre

Apart from Hamlet, Macbeth is perhaps Shakespeare’s most quotable play, containing some of his finest soliloquies and packed with phrases still in common use. So how do you breathe new life into such familiar text? It’s a question that’s exercised theatre’s finest directors for centuries.

One solution is to follow the highly effective example of Lazarus Theatre Company’s artistic director Ricky Dukes, whose fine production of Macbeth opened their three-play spring season at Greenwich Theatre. He and his excellent ensemble cast studiously avoided anything that might be construed as declamation and instead opted for a naturalistic approach.

It was a winning decision and gave the performance of some of Shakespeare’s greatest moments, such as the astounding “sound and fury” speech, depth, gravitas and truthfulness. It also added a welcome chill to the bloody descent of Macbeth and his wife into paranoia, megalomania and mass murder.

Jamie O’Neill was terrific as the king, particularly in the scenes showing him vacillating between his innate humanity and the diabolical lure of power. And Alice Emery was sensational as his scheming wife, sneeringly spurring on her husband as they plunged ever-deeper into the abyss and later being driven to her death by the irredeemable horror she had helped to perpetrate.

The other eight members of the admirable cast - David Clayton, Lewis Davidson, Luke Ward-Wilkinson, Cameron Nelson, Fred Thomas, Darcy Wilson, Mikita Juan and Hamish Somers – had to play 15 roles between them. It helped that Dukes chose plain grey suits for all the men, allowing them to slip in and out of character with barely a pause. But ultimately it was the skill of the actors who put flesh on even the most minor role.

The only time it really didn’t work was with the Weird Sisters, in part because they just weren’t weird enough but mainly because they were hard to hear, spouting their lines, which should be fabulous, in a sort of staccato unison through microphones and, most annoyingly, gas-masks.

My only other complaint was that the breakneck pace set by Dukes meant that the psychological tension which evolves slowly as the play progresses felt slightly rushed. I could have done with another ten minutes of build-up early on to fan the flames of the terror to come.

That said, however, this production as a whole was hugely enjoyable thanks to the cast, the brilliant lighting of Alex Musgrave, the atmospheric soundscape created by Philip Matejtschuk and some neat design touches by Dukes such as the showers of gold and the use of Handel’s Zadok The Priest for the coronation scenes that began, centred and ended his version of the tragedy.

It set the tone for the rest of the Lazarus season, which continues at Greenwich Theatre with Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler from March 25.

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