Macbeth – Review – Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, York

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By Lisa Byrne, August 2018

The glorious summer that York has basked in this year perfectly suits plays such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, but not so much The Scottish Play. So it was fitting that when I saw Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre there was thunder, lighting and lashings of rain.

In fact, the rain was so torrential I was amazed at how professional the actors remained as it hailed through the open-roofed courtyard. I felt rather sorry for the Groundlings, huddled together in the pit below the stage. However, despite being soaked they continued to watch the performances in awe, relishing being part of the fast-paced action, and clinging to each other as they were shoved by Macbeth as he chased the invisible Banquo’s ghost off the stage and through the audience.

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“Greed and ambition”

Despite the foul weather Macbeth was a truly magnificent production, with the violent and tempestuous skies only adding to the bleak and distressing maelstrom of misfortune which befalls characters in the play, obsessed by greed and ambition. It contains a message which is relevant throughout the ages – riches and power do not equal happiness, often the opposite is true.

Being one of my favourite plays, which I studied many centuries ago, I have seen Macbeth at numerous theatres, but this has to be my favourite production. Richard Standing in the lead role is magnificent and totally trounces Rufus Sewell – my previous favourite Macbeth. Although at the start of the play, produced by Olivier award-winning Damian Cruden, I was slightly disappointed that the witches were mere miserable members of the lower orders, pretending to be supernatural beings in order to play with the minds of their social superiors. I like my Scottish witches to be evil, rotten old hags who bring an other worldly element to Macbeth. But this is one of very few complaints.

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“Arch manipulator”

In a vigorous performance, Macbeth is transformed from a brave and loyal soldier to a disloyal, power-hungry murderer, whilst Lady Macbeth, played by Leandra Ashton is wonderful as his plotting, evil wife. She is portrayed as arch manipulator, grooming her husband to commit horrific acts of murder. However, her guilty conscience makes her descend into madness as she sleepwalks through the castle, plagued by hallucinations and constantly rubbing her hands as if she’s washing them, moaning, ‘Out, damned spot.’

The entire cast were superb, especially the excellent Fine Time Fontayne who plays both Duncan and the rather base porter. Paul Hawkyward as the strait-laced Macduff – who hurls his sword down during the final battle to beat Macbeth to death with his bare hands – is also brilliant.

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It’s enthralling to watch the psychologically tense story unravel, whilst the cast clad in furs, armour and leather, designed by Sara Perks and highly reminiscent of the costumes in Game of Thrones, race across the stage. The fast-paced action keeps your attention focused on all the comings and goings as the actors rush between the five entrances and spiral staircases, complemented by Chris Madin’s stunning score.

I have spent many wonderful hours this summer at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre, sipping drinks while being entertained by minstrels and an assortment of historic characters in Shakespeare’s Village as well as watching an array of breathtaking productions within the stunning timber and corrugated iron building, that I feel rather bereft that this enchanting construction will be dismantled after September 2nd.

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I have never experienced a theatrical phenomenon like it – not in the West End or the numerous theatres I have visited across the globe. Please God, Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre will make a dramatic return to York, but in the meantime, I strongly advise you to grab tickets while you can – I promise it will be an unforgettable experience.

images: CAG Photography


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