Becoming a Serial Killer
Full disclosure- I am an Antic Disposition fan; their productions always deliver high quality innovative and entertaining Shakespeare plays. AD’s Macbeth is no exception in their lineage, with stellar performances from the tremendously talented cast in a wonderfully atmospheric venue, Temple Church. Venues are just as important as performances for AD, that is their trademark. And what a venue, the 12th Century church is perfect for AD’s Macbeth, which is set in the 19th century and saturated with gothic horror. The stage is positioned like a runway along the Church’s aisle. Lit by candlelight, the shadows and light flickering over the characters’ faces, on the floor and the ceilings, interact with the protagonists.
One of AD’s creative decisions was for the three witches to be maidservants, which is apt when you remember that servants in the 19th century, particularly women servants, were invisible to their employers. Servants witness all and know all their employers habits; anticipating their every need and desire. So it is not surprising that these 3 servant witches are able to prophesise Macbeth’s future. Nevertheless the supernatural is very much present, infusing the whole play with menace.
The development of the characters is excellent. When we first meet Helen Millar’s Lady Macbeth, she is steely and calculating, convincing an initially, reluctant, Macbeth, played by Harry Anton, to murder Duncan the King of Scotland.
However Macbeth’s ambition and the witches’ prophecies get the better of him. He kills Chris Courtenay’s Duncan but is immediately racked with guilt and remorse. Macbeth’s ambitions drive him on, as well as the need to cover up his crime. Spoiler Alert, he seems to gets a taste for murder and plots the death of Banquo and his son Fleance to thwart the witches prophecies. Although he is a hardened soldier, Macbeth is horrified at murdering Banqo. Peter Collis’ repeated appearances as Banqo’s ghost is terrifying. Anton’s naturalistic performance allows you to question whether Macbeth is hallucinating due to the trauma of what he has done and is suffering from psychotic delusions, or is he being haunted by Banqo’s ghost? This ambiguity is brilliantly conveyed by Anton’s emotionally tortured Macbeth. Millar’s Lady Macbeth desperately scrabbles to keep control of the situation, managing to contain Macbeth’s wild outbursts. Macbeth’s killing spree, to maintain power, rampages on, with his murders of Lady Macduff and Young Macduff. The actors’ well-choreographed fight sequences were thrilling and very authentic on the stripped back set. I was pleased to see Macbeth is just as gory and bloody as it should be; although I had forgotten how high the body count is.
The 3 servant witches use their huge washing tub as the cauldron into which they sink the King’s blood soaked sheets, which they scrub as they chant their spells. This is a clever touch which grounds the supernatural element, making it spookier, particularly as they present as ordinary servants doing their usual chores.
Millar fluidly transitions Lady Macbeth from the cool, strong and stealthy plotter to deranged horror and self-disgust about being Macbeth’s accomplice in the King’s murder. This is manifested in Lady Macbeth’s night terrors when she sleepwalks; repeating her actions and obsessively washing blood from her hands. Millar’s and Anton’s changing facial expressions and body language realistically show the varying emotions of the characters. I could feel the threat that a terrible tragedy would occur; the dread hanging over Macbeth. It appears that Macbeth thinks he has no control over his own actions, as if it is happening to him, which must be due to the witches’ prophecies, which he is trying to fulfil and defeat at the same time. Macbeth’s belief in the three witches, and the intensity of the powerful performances by Louise Templeton, Bryony Tebbutt and Robyn Holdaway as the three witches, fill Macbeth and the audience with a sense of inevitability. The Macbeths’ are doomed. Of course it is not entirely predestined is it? His desire for power is controlling him as well as Lady Macbeth initially manipulating him. In the end Lady Macbeth is driven to despair by her role in killing the King and lacking the support from her husband, that she gave to him when he was losing it after murdering the King, she commits suicide.
I must confess I was somewhat distracted by Anton’s Bradley Cooperesque, A Star, is Born Macbeth; bearded, long haired and rocking a battered 70s’ leather jacket. They are both the archetypal, burnt out bad boys driven by their addictive impulses, Macbeth’s addiction being murder and power rather than substances. Fortunately the whole cast’s superb acting rise above such distractions. With such extreme actions, it would be easy for the cast to slip into over the top performances. But this never happens. The authenticity of Anton, Millar, the three witches and the whole cast, make us believe that the Macbeths’ behaviour is a normal reaction to them committing such heinous crimes as murder.
All photos by Scott Rylander
Antic Disposition’s Macbeth is at the Temple Church, London from 20 August to 7 September 2019