Creation Theatre Company - Macbeth
1st August to 13th September 2014.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Shell-shock and awe
The Scottish play relocates to the First World War in the grounds of Lady Margaret Hall
Creation Theatre: Macbeth, at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, until September 13
Creation Theatre Company's summer production is a thrilling rethinking of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. The play is set in the rustic gardens of Lady Margaret Hall, next to the University Parks on the River CherwelL
Jonathan Holloway, long-time founder-director of Red Shift Theatre Company, has used the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War to locate Macbeth in a hospital for recuperating soldiers. The effect is that the dramas might be a result of the 'heat-oppressed brains' of the wounded men. Trim nurses push soldiers in wheelchairs while apparitions in gas masks wander the flowerbeds. There's a hallucinatory feel with slow-motion dances, grotesque injuries and dreamlike voice-overs for the witches.
The performances are so good that it's hard to believe there is a cast of only six. The play opens with a funeral, the coffin draped in the Saltire prominent on the lawn. It emerges that Macbeth, (the bearded Scott Ainslee) and Lady Macbeth (Laura Murray) are mourning the death of their son in battle. Macbeth's subsequent order of the slaughter of Banquo, and of Lady Macduff (Madeleine Joseph) and her son (portrayed as a twitching soldier in a wheelchair) must be seen in the light of the loss of his bloodline. The mimed killings are more horrific for allowing much to take place in the imagination, rifle butts swishing in the air, daggers piercing the grass.
Holloway has made a remarkably good use of the imposing frontage of the building with three long black drapes flowing from the high roof to the ground and a forest of black flags blowing strongly in the wind (design, Ryan Dawson Laight) - so useful when Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane.
Scenes take place on the roof, in a first-floor window and among the cabaret-style tables of the audience. The actors' lines are amplified through carefully-hidden speakers so an intimacy is gained even when they are several hundred yards away.
Holloway likes having numerous music cues. The eerie sound design (Matt Eaton) has echoes of horror/slasher films, while a haunting piano melody reflects the supernatural and martial themes of the play.