Chesil Theatre    Chesil Theatre, Winchester Anne Waggott   25 January 2023

“If the New Testament is the greatest story ever told, then Macbeth is hot on its heels in second place.” So says Zoe Stanford, Director of Chesil Theatre’s current classic production. She may well have a point. As relevant today as it was in Shakespearean times, with themes of passion, war, trauma, power and revenge at the core of the story, this is a powerful and memorable version.

From the audience demographic, it would appear that ‘the Scottish play’ is on the English/Drama curriculum this year. If so, then the students have been treated to one of the clearest renditions of Shakespeare’s infamous tragedy I have seen to date, which will undoubtedly help them understand just exactly what is going on (which has not always been obvious in other productions!).

Although there may not be many laughs to be found in Macbeth, this ambitious production’s interpretation is very close to being artistically exceptional. Zoe and her creative team have put enormous thought into the aesthetic appeal of the play, with colour and costumes woven together to reflect where loyalties and betrayal lay as seamlessly as the threads of a Scottish clan’s tartan.

The intimate Chesil Theatre venue is an ideal setting for such an intense play, particularly when the cleverly designed set is used to such good effect as it is here; the different levels and multiple exits are used to maximum effect. Excellent lighting is both atmospheric and symbolic, tying into the colour-related themes, whilst the sound effects are superbly designed and timed to perfection, and the array of props enhance the overall visual impact. Special mention must be made for most effective battle makeup (with more than a nod to Braveheart), whilst the bloody effects were executed very well indeed with great precision.

However, the aesthetics would be meaningless if the performances were not of equal quality. Fear not – they are! This is a powerful ensemble production, with strong, committed performances all round; the pace is relentless, yet never rushed, and all are secure and clear in delivering their dialogue, even though some are more proficient with letting the rhythm of Shakespeare’s lyrical iambic pentameter flow than others. It’s my only real criticism of the evening – iambic pentameter is the heartbeat of Shakespeare’s plays, so developing the beautiful rhythm of the words inserts another rich layer, adding more depth and meaning, and I would have liked to hear more of this.

Even amongst such a cohesive group piece, there are standout performances amongst the cast. Tez Cook is totally compelling as Macbeth: ambitious, passionate, ruthless, tortured, a man at war with himself as much as his perceived and actual enemies, Cook commands the stage with an enthralling and charismatic portrayal of the eponymous tyrant. With wild-eyed, haunted expressions mirroring his tortured soul, his descent into self-destruction is truly gripping.

Jen Hale’s Lady Macbeth is a complex characterisation, where you’re not quite sure if she is really the power behind Macbeth or a victim of his ambition and merciless ways. What is never in doubt is that she is completely under his spell, intoxicated by her love for him, for good or bad. Her impassioned final scene, guilt-ridden over his latest actions, is heartrending.

Danny Olsson is chillingly brilliant as Seyton, Macbeth’s attendant, cold and calculating, with an icy stare that seems to cut right through you. Duncan Ley (Banquo) perfectly portrays the loyal and noble Thane of Lochaber, before he is brutally betrayed and murdered by his erstwhile friend, and his performance as Banquo’s ghost is mesmerising. Peter Andrews commands respect as Duncan, King of Scots, equally as at home with the poetry of Shakespeare’s writing as he is on the Chesil Theatre stage.

Claire Kerry, Daisy Norwood and Denise Truscott embody The Weird Sisters, their physicality, facial expressions and timing of their interjections perfectly aligned with the mystical, ethereal, omnipotent beings they portray. Clever use is made of their black capes to make them turn invisible before your eyes.

Macbeth is now sold out for the rest of the run, but if you are one of the fortunate few to have tickets for the remaining performances, you are in for a provocatively memorable evening.