Christopher Gray appreciates play’s acting and a grand setting

As with so many of Creation Theatre’s innovative and entertaining productions over the past two decades, the impact of its new Macbeth depends to a significant degree on a wonderful location. The glorious gardens of Lady Margaret Hall are the venue, the audience seated, cabaret style, at circular tables facing Sir Reginald Blomfield’s handsome red-brick buildings in French Renaissance style which supply a backdrop to the action.

And not just a backdrop: some key scenes, including the murder of Duncan, take place within the walls; characters often appear at a lighted window in one of the wings; and Macbeth launches his doomed defence of Dunsinane from the white balustrade high on the roof.

All this mobility is achievable through the decision of the director Jonathan Holloway to mike the six actors. This results in utter clarity that is obviously a boon for the audience, many of whom, one presumes, will be coming to the play for the first time — such is the outreach of Creation. A downside of the sound system — but only a small one — is that you need a sharp eye open to spot the actors’ entrances.

The hospital-like nature of the Edwardian buildings has inspired Holloway to shift the action to a First World War sanatorium, with the cast as patients and nurses. This obviously fits neatly for Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene; it also inspires a clever touch when her husband’s final visit to the Weird Sisters is presented as a drug-induced vision, the dope injected by her from a huge syringe (ouch!). But on the whole the concept serves more to confuse than clarify.

The witches, incidentally, are jettisoned, their forecasts spoken instead by mourners at the funeral of the Macbeth son (another Holloway invention) which begins the play, with a lot of business featuring the dozen black flags that we shall see much brandished (sometimes as weapons) as the action proceeds.

Strong, well-spoken performances by Scott Ainslie and Laura Murray emphasise the sexual element to the Macbeths’ relationship. Madeleine Joseph does fine work as (unusually) the boozy Porter and an affecting Lady Macduff, who is delivered into the hands of her killers by a Ross (Richard Kidd) transformed into a shifty traitor and despatched at the play’s climax by Christopher York’s victorious Malcolm. This surprising change was suggested, I suppose, by his line “when we are traitors, and do not know ourselves”, said to Lady Macduff. Simon Spencer-Hyde doubles as Banquo and an oddly comic Macduff — perhaps it’s the Richard Wattis-like specs he puts on to alter his looks.

Matt Eaton’s sound — including wailing sirens — is most effective.

Lady Margaret Hall 
Until September 13
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