Macbeth @ Progress Theatre, Reading Open Air

The serene setting of Progress Theatre’s open-air production of Macbeth lies in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s dark and baron play, extending the antithetic use of language that dribbles so beautifully off the players’ word-perfect tongues.

Whilst Patron, Kenneth Branagh, warns that production will go on ‘in thunder, lightening, or in rain’, (stung by the hindsight of a last years reluctant summer) the clear blue sky and limp evening sun added to the beauty of the court gardens. He sends his best wishes, ‘from one Macbeth to another’, a sincere reminder of his part in this years Manchester International Festival. This not only reinforces the popularity of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, but also serves to reiterate the need for originality in a show so frequently performed and with such varying budgets.

Well, Progress Theatre certainly claimed ‘another’ Macbeth, where the Weird Sisters become the physical perpetrators of all wrong doing. It is them who murder the villain Macdonwald, exposing the interpretation that they truly are the barers of fate and perhaps even probes the question: what Macdonwald was promised by them hitherto? This extra dimension presents a play that is living and breathing and the dynamic trio were outstanding. Each brought a new dimension to the performance, with dainty Beth Horrell whose wide-eyes bore into the characters, guiding them like pawns through the play. Equally Lauren Gilber’s booming voice and domineering presence was eerie to behold.  The camaraderie between the three of them was affectionate and highlighted their bond as they adjusted each others clothes. Their voices harmonised in moments of ad hoc chanting, which revealed a hypnotic cadence that conducted the evil deeds of the play.

By casting the sisters as the catalysts of the play, Lady Macebth’s role is weakened. Nevertheless her famous scene where she is drowning in her madness was one of the most harrowing in the play, as the sisters circle round her like vultures, greedily waiting and indeed prompting her demise.

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Steve Havercan was a brilliant Duncan, embellishing his pompousity and hyperbolic-periphary-jittery speech stepping that is awarded in Shakespeare’s unsympathetic presentation of the King. What may have been nervousness or just brilliance allowed him a sort of awkward edginess in his character. It is not surprising we, nor the characters truly mourn his death  or chide the suffering Macbeth. It is only when he betrays modest Banquo played by  the charming Mikhail Franklin that marks his moral depravity.

Matt Tully  skilfully rehearses this downfall with a gradual physical slumping and active excersion and dominance of the stage. This is certainly a U-turn from Matt’s chaotic comic paternal role he played in March. He does well to trace Macbeth’s increasing confidence like a worstening leak. More could be done to pregnate his marital relations with the power struggle and sexual charge that Shakespeare implies. Yet perhaps this is another consequence of the Sisters leading role, or a censorship for young audiences.

The performance recites an abridged version of Macbeth, which keeps the heart and gall of Shakespeare’s tragedy, whilst amputating some of the lanky limbs, making it accessible for all ‘man children’ amongst us. This is a brilliant production in a beautiful outdoor setting in Caversham, that brings us closer to the open air performances enjoyed by Macbeth’s original audience. So take a blanket and enjoy an unusual harmony of Summer, Shakespeare and (Progress’) Sisters.

Progress Theatre, Open Air Production in Caversham Court Gardens, Thursday 18th to Saturday 27th July 2013 at 7.45pm. Tickets www.ReadingArts.com or 0118 960 6060 

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