Warminster Macbeth wows Stratford audience

promptMacbeth3A STARTLING modern-dress and high-tech version of Macbeth played to 450 people in late summer sunshine in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s open air venue, The Dell.

The two performances by Warminster’s Athenaeum Limelight Players was part of the RSC’s 2015 Open Stages programme and ALP chairman Adela Forestier-Walker said it had been a great challenge and a wonderful opportunity for the company to take their ambitious production to Stratford-on-Avon.

ALP was one of just 100 non-professional groups around the country selected for the 2015 project, which included productions on their home stages, showcase performances at top regional theatres and the possibility of taking the play to the RSC’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon in the summer.

In his programme notes, the director Graham Thomas explained that he had wanted to direct Macbeth ever since he played Banquo about 15 years ago. When he heard about the Open Stages programme he began to put his ideas down on paper. What emerged was a very specific vision of the play, set firmly in 21st century Scotland, with the tensions and divisions of Scottish nationalism and the ubiquity of mobile phones and tablets.

The production made ambitious use of IT equipment, which posed very specific challenges for the move into the open air. The running time also had to be cut to 90 minutes. But the ALP team, who travelled up to Stratford by coach for their long and exciting day, tackled it all with style and the result was cheers and loud applause from the audiences who saw the two performances at noon and 3pm in the garden on the banks of the Avon.

Adela explained that the witches used a laptop as their cauldron and the cast used laptops and iPads for the scenes in which the characters skyped each other, and the music, which was such an important part of the Athenaeum performances, was replaced by drumbeats for the fight sequences and drumming between the scenes.

promptMacbeth2She said it was quite a challenge, particularly for the female members of the cast, to be heard clearly in the open air. It had meant that Lady Macbeth (Tanya Stockting)  had lost some of the intensity and intimacy in her scenes with Macbeth (Richard Clarke) but it had been a great experience for everyone.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Adela, “But it was just fantastic. It was helped by the fact that the weather was beautiful. Altogether there were about 450 people. Some people had arrived 20 minutes or half an hour early to get a good place.

“The interesting thing for me sitting there as part of the audience was that nobody got up and walked away. We got cheered at the end and a lot of people thought we were professional.”

A collection at the end of the two performances raised £325 for the Nepal Earthquake Appeal.

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