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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

Macbeth: English Touring Theatre

★★★

Review: Macbeth - ETT in association with Bristol Old Vic. Originally co-produced by ETT, Shakespeare North, Northern Stage and Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg. On in Oxford until 16 March. Tickets from £14. Book here.

[Disclosure: Our reviewer received free tickets, free drinks, and a free programme for the purposes of this review.]


Last night marked the debut of ETT's Macbeth in Oxford.  Shakespeare’s Macbeth is one of the most frequently performed plays in the UK, with multiple, quality productions taking place each year.  Deciding to put on Macbeth, therefore, is a statement of confidence.

 

There is a lot to like about the ETT’s Macbeth. Indeed, there were some truly inspired moments.  However, overall, my impression of this production was that a number of extremely talented theatre professionals created their parts in isolation, and not enough thought was put into creating a coherent whole.



Even the set, which was beautifully constructed, was confusing.  An uneasy combination of warm art deco design and cold brutalist aesthetic – the set gave no real clue as to the era in which this Macbeth was set.  The use of a modern looking mobile phone meant that it had to be set no earlier than the 1990s.  However, throughout the production there was no real communication of the era in which the action was taking place.  Perhaps that’s not ultimately necessary – but for me, it was a bit bewildering.



While a lot of creativity went into the lighting design, I do think that it hampered rather than enhanced the audience experience.  Much of the time, the set was bathed in half shadow – making it quite hard to see clearly. This coupled with the fact that during the first half – a row of stage lights at the top of the set were angled toward the audience – made the production quite hard on the eyes.

 

The sets and lighting don’t usually feature quite so much in my reviews, but when they detract from the audience experience, I feel they need to be mentioned.

 


However, my two biggest issues with this production of Macbeth were the fragmented editing and the projection and enunciation of the actor playing Macbeth.  I feel like I know Macbeth reasonably well - having read it, and seen it on film and in the theatre numerous times.  Despite this, I could barely follow the action because the editing felt so fragmented.  In my opinion, the editing took away the narrative arc of the main characters – so the build up of tension, which is one of the huge joys of Macbeth, just didn’t happen for me. 

 


The second major problem with the production was the vocalisation of the actor playing Macbeth.  His enunciation was deficient.  Further, the actor's voice seemed trapped in the recesses of his throat – which meant that, even miked-up as he was, his voice didn’t project clearly.  As a result, it was extremely difficult to understand him.  I don’t think that you can have a successful production of Macbeth if you can’t understand most of what the main character is saying – even if you know the play quite well.



One aspect of the play that I did think was hugely successful was the violence and stage combat. Kudos to fight director, Kevin McCurdy, for some of the most extraordinarily realistic fight scenes and violence I’ve ever seen on stage.



Despite the evident talent of the professionals involved, as a compelling version of Macbeth, for me, this production ultimately misses the mark.

 

All images of the production provided by the Oxford Playhouse and, except for the feature image, © The Other Richard.

If you enjoyed reading this review, you might enjoy my other reviews of productions featured at the Oxford Playhouse or my other reviews of Shakespeare productions.

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