Bussey Building, London – until 18 November 2017
There seems no better time to stage a Macbeth set in a post-apocalyptic Britain especially when the world teeters on the threat of nuclear annihilation from a maniacal despot hell bent on global domination. Power struggles always make good drama and, as history has shown, the bloodier the better.
Henry Proffit’s Devil You Know Theatre Company has thrown everything into this, their first production, creating a Macbeth that is visceral and powerfully compelling.
The Shakespearean tragedy has opened at The CLF Theatre, in Peckham’s iconic Bussey Building. This former Victorian cricket bat factory and warehouse had a performance space constructed by the Royal Court Theatre six years ago and its shabby chic is perfect for this production.
Proffit plays the murderous warlord, Macbeth, with Sadie Pepperrell offering up a chilling first lady. The production pitches the story into a dystopian world where civilisation and technology have been obliterated.
But, actually, this is a timeless Macbeth, stripped down to the bone and taken back to its original text – slightly abridged to get it into two hours – bloody, brutal and uncompromising. Snowflake millennials should bring their own smelling salts and sick bucket for this show isn’t for the faint-hearted.
This blood-drenched retelling is awash with the red stuff with some of its murders realistically stomach-churning. Even its three weird sisters manage to nauseate with their ingredients for a range of potent spells and incantations. The stage is littered with debris. I’m not entirely sure it’s set dressing for this 120-year-old building isn’t in the best of health.
But it denotes that this isn’t going to be a glamorous production. Life’s hard, post apocalypse – although Lady Macbeth does manage to conjure up some great outfits for entertaining while the men have access to some lovely military great coats.
If only Macbeth had taken a different route home after the wars then this would have been a very different story.
Here he was, a mighty warrior who had quashed the opposition in battle and was being hailed a great hero.
But his chance encounter with three witches dictate otherwise. The production opens with a decaying corpse sitting on an office chair.
One of the witches plunges a dagger into its eye socket and a squelchy gush of blood spurts towards the front row, giving fair warning of what is to come.
The women turn his head with dreams of the throne of Scotland. How could such a thing be possible?
As soon as he tells his wife the die is cast. She sells her soul to the devil to make the dream a reality and there begins a campaign of slaughter that is relentless.
Director Paul Tomlinson has a few spells of his own to make this production zing.
Lighting designer Ben Jacobs and Jared Fortune, a charismatic Macduff and responsible for the excellent sound effects, create a dark, Stygian gloom, complete with unearthly noises, to heighten the menace and supernatural elements of the story.
And there are some well choreographed fight scenes between the cast with machetes, knives and a nasty looking ball-head war club being hurled around.
Proffit makes a convincing and conflicted thane. His frequent soliloquies to the audience draw us into his thought processes as he struggles with the witches’ prophecy. He vacillates, almost asking for guidance from the theatre-goers.
Angry and slighted at being overlooked for a title by the king, he is determined to take his revenge.
Yet there are times when he doubts his courage and has to rely on his wife to put their murderous plans into effect.
Pepperrell is excellent, delivering a ruthless and savage turn as Lady Macbeth. Here is a woman who is resolute and single-minded, determined and ambitious.
Elsewhere Guy Dennys makes for a noble and honourable Malcolm and Cameron Crighton is magnetic as Banquo the soldier, father and ghost.
The ensemble works well together with veteran actor James Pearse providing solid support as much as Jake Sullivan impressing in his professional debut.
A thrilling, dark and ferocious Macbeth, running at The CLF Theatre until November 18.
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