TOMORROW, and tomorrow, and the day after, are the only two chances left to see Shaftesbury Arts Centre’s fifth Shakespeare production. Following A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1990, The Tempest in 2007, the variety-show S Factor in 2012 and last year’s Much Ado About Nothing, this is the first of the tragedies to grace the stage of what was called the Oldmarket Playhouse when I first visited in 1974, and grace the stage it certainly does.
I was not officially invited to the show, but the good folk at the FTR had not been invited either, so when a good friend bought me a ticket I was asked if I could pen a few words about the show. The press release, which I only read at the weekend, talked with some authority about the “tremendous” and “magnificent” performances of the leading actors, so of course I was expecting something to at least live up to this self-written publicity, and fortunately I was not completely disappointed.
Carl Davies is indeed tremendous in the title role, and plays it hard and emotional, his leather clothing and hairstyle making the villainous Scot reminiscent of war films of Il Duce, and as Lady Macbeth, Beth Stewart carried the role confidently and with panache. What the press release failed to mention was just how many great performances there are: the jerky, dancing witches and their quirky choral speaking; Fred Wopat as the loud and warlike Macduff collapsing sensitively in his humanity as he learns of the fate of his family; Mark Hebditch, a memorable Oberon in the Dream all those years ago, sounding so natural and believable as Ross; Jerome Swan, 2007’s Prospero, squeezing every drop of humour out of the comic Porter; Dominic Burd’s regal authority as King Duncan; Sam Skey’s lyrical verse-speaking, perhaps from all those madrigals he sings, bringing Banquo to life, and death, and then making him live again in a gothic fantasy of stage blood. All of these major roles were supported by faces familiar to any Arts Centre audience, with experienced actors such as Richard Thomas, David Luxton, Charles Dillon, Martin Williams, Bex Greenway and young stars such as Grace MacDonald, and others from director Beth Lewis’s SAC Youth Theatre, making the family groups so much more human and realistic than many small-scale productions, and therefore all the more disturbing when a whole family is destroyed.
This is a stylish production, and even if some of the actors did not always fit with the overall concept, in general it works, with the audience drawn into the action as happens around them in the auditorium as well as on stage, a the simple, effective set including some subtle projection, wonderful costumes, especially the black uniforms and flagged berets, and eerie music, like some twisted folk soundtrack, most of it played live.
All in all, probably the best Shakespeare at SAC so far, but please learn a simple lesson from this if you are involved in publicity anywhere – send details of what you are presenting, but keep it as subjective as possible – by all means praise the material, and the actors’ former roles, but do not assume opinions before an audience has even seen the play, and remember to invite the actual journalists to see it next time!