Some open-air productions are surprisingly sophisticated technically, but in the lovely setting of Christchurch’s Priory House Gardens, Bournemouth Shakespeare Players strip this production down to the bare essentials: an almost empty stage, modern dress (although, incongruously, the final fight is with swords), no sound amplification and lighting confined to a couple of floodlights shone from the upper storey of the Priory House itself.
The ‘bare essentials’ in this case are of course Shakespeare’s lines and how well they are spoken. Leo Smith as Duncan gives full value to the verse, as does Daniel Withey as Macduff. Banquo is strongly played by Jon-Michael Lindsey, while I would have liked to hear more of Libby Bellhouse, who plays various parts, including one of the witches and the doctor. Inevitably there is quite a lot of such doubling up while some parts – Donalbain, Lennox and the drunken porter, for example – have disappeared altogether and any important lines given to other roles. So the company certainly deserves credit for its versatility, with a special word for Polly Ashness’s feat: have the bloody sergeant and Lady Macduff ever been played by the same actress before?
Charlie Hall, with his interesting face and distinctive way of moving on the stage, is clearly a talented actor. I can imagine him making a terrific success of a number of parts, but this one-paced Macbeth is not among them. Macbeth seems petulant (if in doubt, put your face up close to someone else’s and shout) rather than driven by an inner fire. An actor playing Macbeth may be judged by two famous but difficult speeches, ‘Is this a dagger’ and ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’, but neither the agony of indecision in the former nor the real pathos of the latter is fully conveyed.
The play opens with a lengthy mime of the Macbeths’ wedding, the birth of their child and its death. Although not the first time this has been done, it is a strong beginning, justified by Lady Macbeth’s ‘I have given suck’ and giving extra power to her shocking willingness to dash out her child’s brains. Rachel Cheeseman’s Lady Macbeth is young and attractive, but she is also convincingly evil; the opening suggests a reason why she has become so psychologically warped. Rachel successfully explores the full range of her character – despite all that has gone before, we should feel sympathy for her in the sleep-walking scene, and we do.
Full credit to director Daniel Sutton-Boulton for this opening, but with only one entrance and exit at the back of the stage, he should encourage his actors to finish their speeches before turning and walking off . And what does it add to the play to have Macbeth assist in the murder of Banquo, other than making a nonsense of his ‘Is he dispatched?’ in the next scene?
A point on which I would take more serious issue with him is that often, actors don’t leave the stage but sit at the back, in full view of the audience. There seems to be no rhyme or reason: sometimes almost the whole cast is there, at other times no-one, so presumably there is room for all of them in the al fresco dressing room behind the chestnut tree that hangs over the stage. The height of absurdity is reached when Macduff sits, dispassionately watching the murder of his wife and child. I am prepared to believe that there is a subtlety to this device that I am too dense to appreciate. Or perhaps it is a gimmick which cannot go out of fashion quickly enough.
Future performances: 26-29 July at 7.30.