Iris Theatre (St Paul’s Covent Garden)
Iris Theatre (in its 10th anniversary year), Macbeth, and me. There’s a trio of weird sisters for a warm summer’s night.
As you will know from reviews previous (Richard III, Twelfth Night, Much Ado), I really enjoy Iris Theatre productions for their creative use of the space around St Paul’s church, and the high calibre of their casts. As you will know from (other) reviews previous, I love Macbeth’s deep creepiness – although I’ve now seen it so often* I am developing Strong Views** on how it is handled.
This Macbeth delivered the creepiness. Oh boy did it deliver, with Linford Johnson, Jenny Horsthuis and Mogali Masuku as fly-inspired witches, all mesh eyes, incomprehensible heads, and one on stilts messing with your sense of human perspective. They delivered their warnings, they summoned even more terrifying spirits***, they raised the dead and turned them into their puppets. They were matched with a soundscape of clanking and screeching, the sort of noises that keep you up all night and set the teeth on edge – although unfortunately, on occasion, these were played so loudly as to obscure the actual dialogue. And there was an incredible Dali-esque internal scene which played with your sense of perspective. It was all downright unsettling.
David Hywel Baynes was great as Macbeth – a fearsome energy that man has, and a magnetic stage presence. But this is where my Strong Views come in. Every so often we would get a hint of that charisma he brought to Richard III (a smile would appear like the sun from behind storm clouds) but he started off a merciless warrior**** and that meant the only place they could go to ramp up the drama was over the top. When Macbeth appeared in the scene with Macduff’s wife and child, my heart sank – when he spattered the audience with gore as he murdered a baby, so did everyone else’s…
Mogali Masuku’s Lady Macbeth, was clipped, precise, measured, in what was (I believe) her first stage role. She held her own against Barnes’s Macbeth by being a steely and cool counterpart – ice against fire. There was a strange moment between her and Stephan Boyce’s Duncan where his entrance to the castle was accompanied by a distinct threat of sexual violence which went precisely nowhere before he was murdered – was it meant to be motive or merely context? I wouldn’t mention it except it was so clearly and so deliberately acted – the threat was another unsettling layer to the whole.
Nick Howard Brown (an Iris stalwart) seemed to be playing most of the Scottish army as well as Banquo – the honest man’s wonder turning to dread as the witches prophecies come true, and then a very eerie presence at the banquet. Jenny Horsthuis played Malcolm (as well as Macduff’s wife) very straight – the scene in England where he pretends to be a monster to test Macduff was a welcome respite from the seething madness of Scotland. Matt Stubb’s Macduff was full of manly honour – his breakdown at the death of his family was beautifully, heart-wrenchingly played so that you couldn’t help but root for him as he marched to take his revenge on the monster.
There was plenty of doubling up (I think almost everyone was killed off at least once…) which is always a joy to me, alongside the music and singing by the cast running through the performance. The use of space, again, was inventive – the scenes wove through trees (literally), advanced under battlements built across the garden, gave us cinematic vignettes of the Macbeths trying to find peace. This is Iris’s 10th anniversary year at St Paul’s Church, and they are still finding new and bold ways to use the spaces available to them.
Reading over this review, it feels a lot less positive that I felt about the production*****! For the record – it was as great as I have come to expect from Iris, and you should go and see it (you’ve got til Friday), and be prepared for it to really creep you out in the best possible way…
* And it also the only Shakespeare I really remember writing essays about in school. We did it for GCSE. Along with poems like My Last Duchess and Porphyria’s Lover. That’s a totally balanced literary education, right?
** Capitalisation important…
*** Real kudos to the propmaster/scenery designer who delivered some knockout effects.
**** As far as I’m concerned, Macbeth should start the play as an honourable warrior. Think Henry V. His wife describes him as “full of the milk of human kindness” for goodness sake. If he doesn’t start off like that, then where’s the fall? Where’s the tragedy in “monster does monstrous things”??? But yes, I do accept that this my backseat director talking and just because it’s not my vision doesn’t means it’s a bad vision…
***** I think I’ve just done the equivalent of the teacher who writes red ink over all your essay, not because they disagree with you but just because they are engaged and enjoying the debate.