REVIEW: MACBETH (The Courtyard Theatre) ★★★


As a lass with Scottish roots I was very much looking forward to seeing the Bard’s “Scottish play” performed at The Courtyard Theatre by up-and-coming theatre company Prowl Theatre. The company chose to set the action in 2016, with a jeans, sweatshirt and boot-wearing Macbeth who was filled with paranoia and racked with guilt as he commits his murderous acts. This play isn’t far from our own social political climate, and explores what happens when we expose and ‘give into’ our human instincts and peer pressure. The venue is stripped-back, hipster heaven, with an underground feel that alludes to a modern atmosphere of danger, which really built up the expectation of an intimate, hard-hitting adaptation of the play.

Prowl Theatre are clearly a talented and intelligent company of professionals, and I fully support the hard work of companies performing Off West End. This production is much shorter than the original text, and runs as one complete act of around an hour and fifteen minutes; a delight for anyone wanting to dip their toe into Shakespearian territory whilst still having time to hit the bar afterwards. The cuts to the text were concise without forfeiting vital content, and together with the multiple roles played within the cast, it conveyed the essence of the story well, despite the rushed verse speaking.

However, although the show ran smoothly, and transitions were tight, this felt like a production doing a run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe (often restricted time limits, basic set and simple costume, to rush out of the venue after the curtain call), rather than the two-week run they have at the Courtyard. The sound and lighting available at the venue was used well and created a sense of tension and I would have loved this to be used more. As previously mentioned, I admire the raw quality that the Courtyard Venue has, seemingly the perfect space for the programme’s promise of ‘terrifiying’ and ‘thrilling’ action. However, the content on stage didn’t always reflect this. Some moments were very strong, but I felt the aesthetic held the ‘timeless’ and ‘placeless’ theme that so many Fringe shows adopt, rather than making a specific contextual link to 2016, distancing me from the relevance to today’s politics. Unfortunately three phones going off during the performance – which were very well handled by the cast – served as a more severe reminder of living in 2016 than some of the stage action.

I did thoroughly enjoy the use of in-the-round and I thought the sight lines were well considered, as the actors rotated their action and were very generous with the audience. A real stand out performance for me was from Sophie Spreadbury playing the iconic Lady Macbeth. Her performance was poised whilst being sufficiently elegant and evil. She made clear, interesting choices and had a bold physicality within the space, wonderfully used when she called the spirits of the witches to “unsex me here”.

This production was good overall and did explore how once the seeds of desire and power have been planted in our minds, they’re very difficult to ignore. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most blood-thirsty and exhilarating plays, but with so much ‘off-stage’ action, due to text and character cuts, I wasn’t left feeling as thrilled as the programme promised. I felt this production, however, would be perfect for students studying Macbeth, as the cuts worked exceptionally well to provide a concise and fast-paced story. I just feel a few more bold decisions, both directorially and design could have made the performance the harrowing tale it claims to be, giving the company the confidence to own their two week run.

Reviewed by Lisa MacGregor
Photo: Will Austin

MACBETH is playing at the Courtyard Theatre until 27 August 2016