Arguably one of his most famous tragedies, Macbeth is a crafted tale of a fight for power, regicide, murder and psychosis. Initially performed in 1606, Shakespeare taps into the fears of the reigning monarch at the time, King James I, by creating his infamous three witches. Also, dubbed by the superstitious as ‘the Scottish Play’, this reimagining of the classic Jacobean tale by Iris Theatre weaves around the gardens of St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, and we are invited to literally follow the story in an original and immersive theatrical experience.
With a set designed by Alice Channon, the gardens of St Paul’s Church are transformed into a charming mythical place. The home of Lady Macduff, for example, is crafted entirely around a tree, with windows for supernatural figures to burst through, and creates a beautiful and haunting set for a horrifically violent scene. The natural light of day slipping away throughout the play also adds to the ambience, while the perfectly preened flowers contribute to the ethereal vibe. When we are eventually invited inside by the cast, after moving slowly through the garden as it grew colder and colder, we are greeted by a visual treat, a beautiful and stirring mural inspired by the gothic imagery of Hieronymus Bosch serving as backdrop to the grand table.
David Hywel Baines as Macbeth and Mogali Masuku as Lady Macbeth are excellent, especially the latter. Baines portrays Macbeth’s spiral into madness with a scatty desperation, while Masuku is initially filled with grace, strength and manipulation as his doting wife. As she too wrestles with her guilt and growing insanity, Masuku shows her growing to become paranoid and weak. Matt Stubbs also deserves a mention, commanding and fearless as Macduff, but sly and wary as the murderer hired by Macbeth. The entire cast’s multi-roling is to be admired.
Directed by Daniel Winder, this version of Macbeth offers nothing new to those who know the story well or have seen a production before. The idea of setting the piece outside unfortunately relies on the rather unreliable British sun, so wrap up warm to avoid thinking about how cold you’ve suddenly become, in place of the actual play. The constant moving from scene to scene does add a degree of realism, but I find it also slightly taints the immersion when being asked to move and reseat yourself every thirty minutes. A nice idea in theory but not so much in practice. However, with its striking visual imagery and ever-moving cast, this bloody and messy production could be perfect for those who don’t particularly enjoy Shakespeare or the traditional theatre experience.
Macbeth is playing at St Paul’s Church Covent Garden until July 29.
Photo: Nick Rutter