The Watermill Ensemble returns for their fourth year in a row, taking on Shakespeare's bloody tragedy. The group brings together a cast of actor-musicians (with a 50-50 gender split) and combine Shakespeare's text with live music. It is a style that breeds fascinating results.
This production is drenched in musicality, an electric base propelling proceedings along. It makes for a particularly sprightly Macbeth, with a first half that whips along at a terrific pace. The likes of 'Paint It Black' and 'House of the Rising Sun' are sung by the ensemble whilst the XX's 'Intro' becomes a refrain throughout. For those unfamiliar with the play (one that has remained firmly nestled in educational syllabuses) it tells of a couple, driven on by prophecies from a trio of witches, to commit bloody deeds to become rulers of
One of the strengths of the Watermill's Macbeth is the ensemble that performs it. They bring a vibrant energy to the production, rarely stopping to let the audience catch their breath. It really is terrific to watch the cast so competently switch between the text and the music performed and they each manage to breath life and personality into their role, no matter the number of lines it has. Billy Postlethwaite's Macbeth is a physically imposing figure, dominating many of the scenes he is in. And yet it is Emma McDonald who stands out, making a compelling, oddly sympathetic Lady Macbeth. There is a restraint in her performance, with the famous "out damn'd spot" moment refreshingly underplayed. There is a noticeable dip in energy in the second half as Lady Macbeth retreats from proceedings, with Macbeth feeling closer to a competent production than the grippingly volatile one it initially resembles.
One of the elements that gives Watermill Theatre productions such a quality is a creative team who feel used to the space they are working in. Katie Lias' terrific design (with proceedings taking place in a burnt out husk of a stage) is marked by an adaptability that allows the intimate space to be transformed into various locales with minimal effort. Tom White's lighting is haunting, drenched in atmosphere, aided by effective sound design (David Gregory), and terrific use of projection (crafted by Louise Rhoades-Brown), particularly in the play's final moments. Each of these creatives has a previous credit at the Watermill and show an awareness of what can be achieved in this very special theatre.
Artistic director Paul Hart's theatrical experiment in the form of The Watermill Ensemble goes from strength-to-strength with its fourth work by the Bard. The lyrical quality to this Macbeth propels the production along, aided by an animated cast and roster of exceedingly talented creatives. And in McDonald's Lady Macbeth it has a fascinating interpretation of an overly familiar character that feels refreshingly new.