Macbeth Review

If murder, blood and lots of shouting are your thing then The Iris Theatre Group’s open air production of Macbeth, staged in the grounds of St Paul’s, The Actor’s Church, in the shadow of Covent Garden, will be right up your cul-de-sac.

Having never visited this corner of the West End it is always pleasant to stumble across a not exactly hidden London gem. St Paul’s is overlooked by The Punch and Judy pub but once inside its grounds the white noise of Zone 1 drifts a little further away, save for the odd overheard urban rattle.

This occasionally helps shape the narrative so when, in fading light, Macbeth brutally murders the wife and son of Macduff the sound of seagulls squawking overhead adds to the drama.

However the same cannot be said for the breeze carrying over the street performer’s music from the nearby piazza in the midst of a Macbeth soliloquy.

Directed by Daniel Winder, this production requires the audience to follow the cast around the church as the action buzzes around different areas within its grounds as each scene passes.

The main benefit of this is that the viewers are delivered closer to the action. As the performers summon the audience to storm Dunsinane the audience is swept along in pursuit. Occasionally this funneling causes unwelcome bottlenecks, holding the action as everyone re-takes their seats.

When Macbeth and Banquo return as conquering heroes from battle to be greeted by King Duncan the audience is so adjacent that keeping up as the actors deliver their dialogue becomes a physical experience akin to watching a rally at Wimbledon.

As the production moves into its third hour this does start to get a little draining, especially as this chilly reviewer had foolishly dressed for balmy evening summer heat-wave.

You only have to cast your mind back twelve months to remember that Macbeth’s story of thwarted political ambition is timeless. This is obviously cliché, but it also feels as if not said enough, the dialogue and language is wonderfully abundant.

Macbeth-David-Hywel-Bayne

The staging is eye-catching and fun, making full use of the setting. The three witches as super-natural giant insects summon ghostly apparitions to Macbeth who in turn press their faces though latex scenery built around the trees of the courtyard to deliver their prophecies. An eerie soundtrack backdrop does its best to drown out the taxi horn and ambulance siren.

The small cast perform multiple roles in a challenging environment with gusto and all manage to carry their voices over the prevailing wind with ease. Inevitably this sometimes betrays a loss of emotional nuance.

David Hywel Baynes and Mogali Masuku as Lord and Lady Macbeth, both have the necessary stage presence to carry their respective roles. The subsequent collective descent into paranoid neurosis is vivid and compelling.

The support, particularly Matt Stubbs’s steadfast Macduff and Nick Howard Brown’s ghostly Banquo are all excellent.

All of which adds up to a fresh and exciting evening of Shakespearian gore and slaughter which is well worth catching for its brief July run.

Just remember to bring a jumper in case.

Frank Gardiner

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