Macbeth – the curse is lifted

Macbeth, Lion & Unicorn Theatre, London, Saturday 26th September 2015

Macbeth 2Sound the trumpets! Release the doves!

The curse of the Scottish play has been lifted!

The amateur version of Macbeth we saw during the Shakespeare challenge was so bad in conception, so flawed in design, and so hammy and ham-fisted in its delivery that the experience cast a pall over the entire venture. We were barely into January and that was only second play off the list. Would the rest of the year be like this?

So I approached Cordial Productions’ Macbeth at the Lion and Unicorn with a cauldron of mild concern. The parallels were there, for a play concerned with magic and mysticism.

This version of Macbeth would also be the second off the list, and would be performed in an intimate venue by an up-and-coming company.

Would it be second time unlucky?

No, it would not. Most magnificently, Macbethfully not.

This was a straight performance of the tragedy in the best sense of the word. Prominence was given to the quality of the text, delivered by an impressive cast. The stand out performer was Anthony Cord in the lead, who has a gravitas on stage that he carries lightly, with a voice made for Shakespeare.

I was also impressed by the sheer brio of the three weird sisters, cackling and crowing away and, as we took our seats for the second act, dancing with the rest of the cast. Though I did feel a little sorry for the actors who had to play a number of minor characters, often in short order, and had to skip not always totally convincingly between accents and patterns of speech.

Unlike the confusing and ultimately self-defeating Anderson shelter-setting in 2011 – last mention, I promise – the intimacy of the Lion and Unicorn’s stage, in a small space above a pub, was used to intelligent effect. The dressing was stark and the slightly dingy atmosphere of the room, which had no natural light, served well the creeping, clawing darkness of the drama.

A final note on pace. One of the reasons Macbeth is so popular, and I suspect why so many schools make it their pupils’ introduction to Shakespeare (as well as the witches and battles, obviously) is the sheer speed of the action.

There is a treatise on morality and the consequences of sin at the heart of the play, but around that Shakespeare crams an enormous amount of bloody action into a short space of time, both within the internal chronology and dramatic setting of Macbeth. Unlike Hamlet, there are no pregnant pauses and philosophical diversions.

Every scene propels the hero and the audience to the ultimate darkness. The intelligence of this production was that it used the admirable skills of its cast and the conditions of the venue to intensify that bleakly exhilarating journey.

2 down – 99 to go.

Thank you Cordial Productions and the Lion and the Unicorn.

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