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Watermill Theatre

Box office

01635 46044. www.watermill.org.uk

The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, Newbury, RG20 8AE. A map is here. A seating plan is here.
@WatermillTh

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Reviews of Macbeth

28th February to 30th March 2019

Review from Newbury Theatre.

Macbeth is the fourth in the Watermill Ensemble’s Shakespeare series bringing together Director Paul Hart, Designer Katie Lias, Lighting Designer Tom White and Sound Designer David Gregory along with some familiar faces from the previous productions.

Macbeth and Banquo emerge bloodied from the flickering half-light of the opening battle scene to be surrounded by a whole coven of witches but we’re soon into familiar territory with Duncan handing out the honours and preparing to visit the Macbeths at home. Or rather at Hotel Macbeth, a rather sleazy establishment, underlined by the singing of The House of the Rising Sun.

Now, about the music… As usual, we have actor-musicians and although there are some full-on songs some of the music is played and sung by one or two of the cast, often unobtrusively in the background, and this works well. The songs are all modern(ish) pop songs, 60s and later. Although some of them could be loosely linked to the text (In Dreams gave a clever twist to the murder of Duncan), others were less obvious. Paul Hart told me that the relevance is to the text or the subtext so maybe I’d need to see the play again to appreciate the significance.

Billy Postlethwaite’s Macbeth was at his best as a fighter, lacking passion in the domestic environment. When told of Lady Macbeth’s death, he seemed detached, bemused, amused even. There was little chemistry between him and Lady Macbeth, a strong performance from Emma McDonald especially in the sleepwalking scene. This was understated, which worked well, but brought her into physical contact with the Doctor, the Lady in Waiting and even the audience.

Among the other characters, Victoria Blunt was a strong Malcolm and Lillie Flynn was Banquo, needing more volume. Eva Feiler was a delight as the general dogsbody and porter at the hotel, reprising her diffident character as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

As we would expect from Hart, this is a very imaginative production with a great deal going on. After Duncan’s death, the lights behind the O and T in the HOTEL sign go out, leaving us in HEL, emphasising the significance of the number 6 on each of the three adjacent doors at the back of the set – the mark of the beast on the gates of hell? Lady Macbeth sings V-E-R-Y to Macbeth while Banquo does a bizarre dance of death around them.

Katy Lias’s set is a stark, dilapidated building with blood running down the wall at times and Tom White’s lighting effectively enhances the action.

It’s a bold new production with a lot to think about and take in. It will appeal to young people and maybe puzzle older audiences – a good thing on both counts.

PAUL SHAVE

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Knife-edge theatre

Watermill Ensemble bring a fresh approach to the Scottish play

Macbeth, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until Saturday March 30

Paul Hart's Watermill Ensemble makes a welcome return to the Bagnor playhouse with a thrilling, innovative production of Macbeth. Hart's assured imaginative direction is bold and brave. Gone are the three witches, replaced with the voices of ethereal spirits and fallen soldiers and there is a dark humour entwined throughout this gritty story of ambition, greed and murder.

Katie Lias' foreboding set evokes a wartorn and burnt-out hotel, where there are three doors, each numbered 6 – a true hell on earth and the flickering outdoor sign confirms this. Louise Rhoades Brown's video projections create tree branches and dramatic rivulets of blood flowing down the set and Tom White's atmospheric lighting vividly evokes the mood.

The Watermill's trademark highly-talented actor/musicians add a nuanced commentary to the action, with a song list of classic hits including the Rolling Stones' Paint it Black and Roy Orbison's In Dreams, all beautifully arranged by musical director Maimuna Memon.

Billy Postlethwaite is most impressive as Macbeth, a confident professional soldier who becomes entrapped as the witches' prophesies start to come true. His scheming, assertive wife Lady Macbeth, a striking sultry performance by Emma McDonald, drives the action forward, her ambition challenging her husband's doubts about killing King Duncan.

The cast is gender-blind, so we have Lilly Flynn playing Banquo splendidly, with an undying loyalty to Macbeth that has disastrous results.

Eva Feiler is the loyal porter/receptionist, dressed as a hotel bell boy, bringing much humour to the role – a welcome contrast to the horror of the murders, which really are bloody.

Sally Cheng is moving as the brittle Lady Macduff, whose children are brutally killed, and Mike Slater as Macduff is determined to seek revenge on Macbeth for his slaughter of his family.

There is strong support from Victoria Blunt in the role of Malcolm, Peter Mooney as Duncan's son Donalbain, who flees to Ireland, Offue Okegbe as Lennox and Max Runham playing Duncan and providing much musical drive.

This is a powerful, spirited production that will refresh and challenge your preconceptions of Shakespeare's classic tragedy.

Highly recommended, so book soon.

ROBIN STRAPP

Review from The Guardian. [The Guardian review also contains a review of another production of Macbeth - this has not been included here]

four stars
Two new versions of Macbeth march to a very different beat but music pulses at the heart of both. In Paul Hart’s production at the Watermill, Newbury (★★★★☆), an eclectic range of pop music is performed live on stage and bursts through the seams of almost every scene and every bleeding syllable. The result is a show that burns with purpose, passion and energy to spare. ...

Hart’s take at the Watermill could be seen as less radical [than the other one]. Duncan is still a king, complete with a golden crown. Macbeth is still a blood-soaked and dirt-stained soldier. But while Hart remains faithful to the military setting of Shakespeare’s tragedy, he has taken inspired liberties elsewhere. The use of music, in particular, is really quite brave and unusual. The 10-strong ensemble cast play, sing and perform throughout – both during dazzling set pieces with brilliant arrangements of haunting songs, but also in a series of stolen moments of musical expression.

This was the first time I’ve applauded Duncan’s death. Ditto the other murders, which are all really mad and brilliant fun. During Duncan’s murder, Max Runham beautifully sings Roy Orbison’s In Dreams while a series of sparkly clad women, who have all somehow become versions of Macbeth’s dagger, whirl around the King’s bed. Billy Postlethwaite sits in the middle of this display, entranced and inspired. When Macbeth stabs Duncan, again and again and again, it doesn’t feel like murder. It feels like an encore.

Startling rhyming couplets are sung instead of spoken, and suddenly sound new. Macbeth and Emma McDonald’s Lady Macbeth sing and dance and embrace constantly and independently, as if performing from their own separate and seriously sexy score. There’s a rigour to this production that means even the quirkiest of flourishes – a singing purple-suited porter, a guitar wielded as a weapon, or a wall that bleeds with blood – feel just right. Here is a world in which anything could happen; a world in which daggers really might materialise, the night might howl and moan, and Birnam wood might – just might – come to Dunsinane.

MIRIAM GILLINSON

There are reviews from The Stage ("luridly gothic design adds to the atmosphere of this raucous and bloody Macbeth" - ★★★★), WhatsOnStage ("the atmosphere the company create together is one of unbearable mounting tension, of gathering forces of evil... a feeling of real tragic catharsis - and of anticipation – looking forward to the next reunion of this exciting ensemble" - ★★★★), The Spy in the Stalls ("Postlethwaite commands as Macbeth... Shakespeare works best when kept fresh and relevant and sadly this production did not quite manage it" - ★★★), DailyInfo ("drenched in musicality... [the cast] bring a vibrant energy to the production, rarely stopping to let the audience catch their breath... The Watermill Ensemble goes from strength-to-strength"), Oxford Times ("will delight and dismay, I guess, in almost equal measure... a powerful, pacy production" - ★★★★), Pocket Size Theatre ("certainly more engaging and entertaining than the NT version on the vast Olivier stage last year... fresh exciting and modern" - ★★★), Henley Standard ("an enormously impressive team of professionals at the top of their game... a production that is quite new and unique in its accessibility and use of music to accentuate emotions and create tension... superbly staged production").

There's an interesting article...

... by Tei Williams about the process in staging a Watermill production, from choosing the play through to the opening night. It's here.

Reviews in the Archive

Robin Hood (November 2018)
Murder For Two (January 2019)
Jane Eyre (October 2018)
Trial by Laughter (September 2018)
Sweet Charity (July 2018)
Jerusalem (June 2018)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (May 2018)
Burke and Hare (April 2018 and on tour)
The Rivals (March 2018)
Teddy (January 2018)
The Borrowers (November 2017)
Under Milk Wood (October 2017)
Loot (September 2017)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (September 2017 and on tour)
A Little Night Music (July 2017)
All at Sea! (July 2017)
The Miller's Child (July 2017)
Nesting (July 2017 and on tour)
House and Garden (May 2017)
Twelfth Night (April 2017)
Faust x2 (March 2017)
Murder For Two (January 2017)
Sleeping Beauty (November 2016)
Frankenstein (October 2016)
The Wipers Times (September 2016)
Crazy For You (July 2016)
Watership Down (June 2016)
Untold Stories (May 2016)
One Million Tiny Plays About Britain (April 2016 and on tour)
Romeo and Juliet (February 2016)
Tell Me on a Sunday (January 2016)
Alice in Wonderland (November 2015)
Gormenghast (November 2015) - see the Youth page
The Ladykillers (September 2015)
Oliver! (July 2015)
A Little History of the World (July 2015 and on tour)
Between the Lines (July 2015)
The Deep Blue Sea (June 2015)
Far From the Madding Crowd (April 2015)
Tuxedo Junction (March 2015)
The Secret Adversary (February 2015)
Peter Pan (November 2014)
But First This (October 2014)
Twelfth Night (November 2014) - see the Youth page
Journey's End (September 2014)
Calamity Jane (July 2014)
The Boxford Masques - Joe Soap's Masquerade (July 2014)
Hardboiled - the Fall of Sam Shadow (July 2014)
A Bunch of Amateurs (May 2014)
Sense and Sensibility (April 2014)
Life Lessons (March 2014)
All My Sons (February 2014)
The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (January 2014)
Pinocchio (November 2013)
Sherlock's Last Case (September 2013)
Romeo+Juliet (September 2013 and on tour)
The Witches of Eastwick (July 2013)
Laurel & Hardy (June 2013)
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (May 2013)
The Miser (April 2013)
David Copperfield (March 2013)
Sleuth (February 2013)
Arabian Nights (November 2012)
The Tempest (September 2012)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (August 2012)
Boxford Masques (July 2012)
Ben Hur (June 2012)
Of Mice and Men (May 2012)
Love on the Tracks (April 2012 and on tour)
Henry V and The Winter's Tale (April 2012)
Lettice and Lovage (February 2012)
The Wind in the Willows (November 2011)
Some Like It Hotter (November 2011 and on tour)
Great Expectations (September 2011)
Radio Times (August 2011)
The Marriage of Figaro (July 2011)
Moonlight and Magnolias (May 2011)
Richard III and The Comedy of Errors (April 2011)
The Clodly Light Opera and Drama Society (March 2011)
Relatively Speaking (February 2011)
Treasure Island (November 2010)
Single Spies (September 2010)
Copacabana (July 2010)
Daisy Pulls It Off (June 2010)
Brontë (April 2010)
Raising Voices (March 2010)
Confused Love (March 2010)
Heroes (February 2010)
James and the Giant Peach (November 2009)
Educating Rita (October 2009)
Spend Spend Spend! (July 2009 and September 2010)
Blithe Spirit (May 2009)
Bubbles (April to May and September to October 2009)
A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Merchant of Venice (March 2009)
Life X 3 (January 2009)
Matilda and Duffy's Stupendous Space Adventure (November 2008)
The Sirens' Call (November 2008)
Our Country's Good (September 2008)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of The Recruiting Officer (October 2008)
Sunset Boulevard (July 2008)
Boxford Masques - Knight and Day (July 2008)
Black Comedy and The Bowmans (May 2008)
London Assurance (April 2008)
Micky Salberg's Crystal Ballroom Dance Band (April 2008 and on tour)
Great West Road (March 2008)
Merrily We Roll Along (March 2008)
Honk! (November 2007)
Rope (September 2007)
Martin Guerre (July 2007)
Twelfth Night (June 2007)
The Story of a Great Lady (April and September 2007, and on tour)
The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (April 2007)
For Services Rendered (March 2007)
Plunder (January 2007)
The Snow Queen (November 2006)
Peter Pan in Scarlet (October 2006)
The Taming of the Shrew (September 2006 and on tour in 2007)
Hot Mikado (July 2006 and September 2009)
Boxford Masques: The Crowning of the Year (July 2006)
Hobson's Choice (May 2006)
Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (April 2006)
Tartuffe (February 2006)
The Jungle Book (November 2005)
The Gilded Lilies (October 2005)
Copenhagen (September 2005)
The Garden of Llangoed (September 2005 and September 2006)
Thieves' Carnival (July 2005)
The Shed (July 2005)
Mack and Mabel (May 2005)
The Odyssey (May 2005)
Broken Glass (April 2005)
The Winter's Tale (January 2005)
Arabian Nights (December 2004)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of Whose Life is it Anyway? (November 2004)
Multiplex (November 2004)
Neville's Island (September 2004)
The Comedian (September 2004 and March 2005)
Raising Voices Again (September 2004)
Pinafore Swing (July 2004)
The Venetian Twins (May 2004)
The Gentleman from Olmedo (April 2004)
Mr & Mrs Schultz (March 2004 and on tour)
Sweeney Todd (February 2004)
The Emperor and the Nightingale (November 2003)
See Newbury Dramatic Society for a review of An Ideal Husband (November 2003)
A Star Danced (September 2003)
The Fourth Fold (September 2003)
The Last Days of the Empire (July 2003)
Accelerate (July 2003)
Dreams from a Summer House (May 2003)
The Triumph of Love (April 2003)
Gigolo (March 2003)
Raising Voices (March 2003)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (February 2003)
The Firebird (November 2002)
Ten Cents a Dance (September 2002)
Dancing at Lughnasa (July 2002)
Love in a Maze (June 2002)
Fiddler on the Roof (April 2002)
I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls (March 2002 and March 2006)
Only a Matter of Time (February 2002)
Cinderella and the Enchanted Slipper (November 2001)
Piaf (October 2001)
The Merchant of Venice (October 2001)
Witch (September 2001)
The Clandestine Marriage (August 2001)
The Importance of Being Earnest (May 2001)
Gondoliers (March 2001)
Rose Rage (February 2001)
Carmen (July 2000)