University of Northampton BA Hons Degree 2nd Year Actors
Let me start by saying I am writing this review some eleven hours after seeing this production and I am still coming to terms with what I witnessed. I thought I had it summed up last night but this morning it means even more.
This was Mikhail Baryshnikov and Bruce Lee do Shakespeare. I have never seen such a physical production outside of a Cirque De Soleil show in Las Vegas!
Anyone who has read my reviews knows how much I love actors being on stage when I come in to take my seat. This time I was treated to a frozen tableau that filled the stage and pulsed with the excitement that we knew would surely follow. We were not disappointed as a wild and untamed battle took place before our very eyes. With swords replaced with staffs it was choreographed to perfection. Just as well as it was just inches from my face in the front row. The action froze with bodies caught in mid-flight then erupted once again into mayhem and violence. This was the first time I set eyes on Ben Stacy who picked up his foe and simply broke his back across his knee then hauled him off set like a haunch of venison. What a truly spectacular opening to what was to become an amazing show.
We were soon visited by the three witches who were as dark and twisted as they could be. Their voices when in isolation and in chorus were screeching, hissing projections of their inner evil and mischief. Wonderfully played by Julia-Louise Nolan, Rachel Sherbourne and Kate Fenwick, they intertwined with our hero throughout the play. Truly three weird sisters!
I cannot write another word without mentioning Sam Billy Behan whose portrayal as Macbeth was a true tour de force. Before seeing this production I had never seen Sam before but from his entrance on stage I could not take my eyes off him. Stage presence cannot be taught in my humble opinion but this young man has it in spades! Seeing the happy almost carefree Macbeth when he first appears turn into the maniacal murdering and deeply haunted man was portrayed in the most physical way. As his descent into evil and madness begins and grows Sam’s own physical shape changes dramatically. When in public and in good spirit, he stands tall, his smile fractures his face and all is well with the world but in his private moments, like the worms that are eating his very soul, he twists and deforms into a misshapen caricature of himself. How Sam can maintain this through a single performance is beyond me, but to do two shows back to back is the sign of a truly great actor. Sam, you are a star. Simple as that!
Macbeth’s great friend and ally Banquo was played by Matt Hirst. Matt’s portrayal was first class. A fierce friend, he is strong and loyal but with a playful sense about him. Matt has a strong physicality and can move like a cat that belies his stature. This makes him seem even more dangerous to deal with. As his own ghost he excelled in silent spectral splendour.
Lady Macbeth is as mad as a box of frogs and the marvellous Zoe Davey gave her all to the part. Malevolent and scared in almost equal measure she made it hard to take your eyes off her when on stage. Her interaction with her now demented husband as he stands over her screaming “O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!” while lowering her to the ground, his face in her face was outstanding. It truly showed how as actors, you have to accept that your personal space that you value in normal everyday life needs to be violated when on stage when emotions run riot seconds before they give way to violence. Spectacular pairing of players!
A moment wonderfully written by Shakespeare and portrayed by Hannah Mitchell and Jack Smith as the porters bought a light hearted interlude to life. The entire audience was laughing as they traded barbs and I am sure I counted at least five times when Hannah actually hit Jack each time with a resounding slap! Thank you both for giving us so much fun for those few minutes.
To see a giant of a man bought to tears is one of the most awful things to witness. Ben Stacey as Macduff was a dream. Seeing him on his knees sobbing for his beloved wife and child recently slaughtered could not help but move me. Then to see him rise up, stand tall and turn his sorrow into anger and rage against Macbeth sent shivers through my spine. His final one on one fight with Macbeth was brutal in its intensity and the way once slain, Macbeth was simply lifted like a sack and hauled off stage seemed so effortless.
Catherine Garlick, eventually crowned as Malcolm King of Scotland at the end of the piece was formidable in her role. Being of slight build and playing a man who was to be King, she never struggled to be forceful in her part. From entreating Macduff to stand and fight, to her final crowning speech, she was great to watch.
The choreography of the entire play was beyond belief and I found it thrilling to watch and for me it only added to the beauty of The Bards words.
I was recently with Dr Ross Prior at the 3rd year actor’s showcase. He described the university conservatoire way of teaching. With combat skills and ballet classes mentioned, I never thought I would see them so perfectly combined on stage.
I know I have picked out just a few names for mention but this is only because of space and memory. Each and every player in this epic performance should hold his or her head up high as they were all amazing. So many of them played multiple parts and how they remembered their fight moves, their nuances and their intensity is truly admirable.
Trudy A Bell, you are a gifted director and it is obvious, like a true leader your “troops” would follow you to hell and back. I have no doubt that when presented with this version of the Scottish Play, they had to suspend disbelief and trust you to show them just what they could do. Well they did it and I know how proud you are of each of them.
Steve Banks, Nancy Bean, Sam Billy Behan, Leanne Dallman, Zoe Davey, Chloe Emery, Dale Endacott, Kate Fenwick, Catherine Garlick, Matt Hirst, Sarah Kirk, Ryan McGown, Hannah Mitchell, Julie-Louise Nolan, Sophie Poyntz-Lloyd, Rachel Sherbourne, Sam Skinner, Jack Smith, Ben Stacey and Riley Stephen step forward and take a bow. There was a standing ovation for you last night. It was for each and every one of you and so very much deserved.
Thank you for such a wild ride last night. This is how Shakespeare should be: alive, exciting and innovative. I loved it!
As an aside, I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Kenneth Branagh National Theatre production of Macbeth. I paid to see it twice. If last night’s performance had not been the last, I would be back at the box office begging for another ticket!