"Intrigue, murder & dramatic spookiness"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 30/09/11

MACBETH by Wm. Shakespeare
Designed & directed by Simon Plumridge
a Platform 4 Theatre Production on tour
at TACCHI-MORRIS ARTS CENTRE, Taunton
Reviewed on 28th September

EVIL & FEAR of evil is the pervasive climate of Shakespeare's "Macbeth;" its opening scene fore-shadows all the murderous horror that follows & however realistic Shakespeare's stage effects were, they could hardly have been more successful than the atmospherics conjured up today by director Simon Plumridge, who also designed the simply impressive set & collaborated with designers of lighting & sound-scape for this faithful production of 'the Scottish tragedy' performed by Platform 4 Theatre.

Jules Bushell & Bic Hayes, composers & musicians both, with Robert Bryan, creator of spooky lighting effects, achieve splendid results of sinister mood throughout the performance. Costumes imaginatively designed by Su Houser, complement the whole effect perfectly.

Entirely covering the back wall are black drapes & in front of them, curtains of black gauze through which black shapes emerge out of the absolute blackness, through fog, billowing across the stage. They become visible in subtle illumination. Sinister sounds like malicious music mingle deliciously with thunder & flashes of lightning to reveal moment by moment, three indistinct hags all draped in black, harbingers of doom and death, denying all hope of glorious life 'hereafter.' This is horror visually well-staged, a thrilling beginning for the dramatically dark actions that follow.

"When shall we three meet again?" The question is threatening in the stage-storm weather, like the horrific apparel & sinister tones of these three Weird Sisters' who hover ominously over the promising career of the noble & heroic General Macbeth, at this point, still loyal to King Duncan.

The seven members of the 'Platform 4' company are a mix of experienced & novice talent. They speak the lines clearly & at a pace that allows its largely young audience more than enough time to follow the meanings & story lines but in some scenes, rather at the expense of tension & energy.

Success for any play depends (as Hamlet advises us) upon speech being suited to action but with one or two characters here, such an accord is at times disappointing. Movement & body language in some scenes, do not fit; actions & words belie each other, marring desired harmony or conflict.

Few theatregoers would define just why they judge a show to be merely "Good !"or "Superb" because the effect of these 'niggles' is subliminal but they contain the difference between "satisfactory" & "excellent." But it is the reviewer's duty to report the quality of performances & in a few places only, this Macbeth falls below par, dropping either energy or emotion or both.

Respecting the experience of most of the cast, one has to consider whether the director could have sharpened some of the tensions & conflicts - even the culminating sword fight - & choreographed closer physicality between characters whether in conspiracy, in affection or in argument.

Now to be positive, James G. Bellorini creates a formidable Macbeth easily inhabiting the varied emotions of first, the decent nobleman, fearfully conscientious but finally weak in the face of temptation & Tamsin Fessey's feisty Lady Macbeth, who denies her small stature to harangues her husband with determination & courage in pursuit of her ambition to be queen of Scotland.

Bellorini has vocal power & physical presence to dominate the company that includes Ralf Higgins, a stately King Duncan contrasting the "gentle senses" of the monarch with the furious grief of the tragically bereft, MacDuff whose destiny is so instrumental to the Stewart line of Scotland's kings, & for whose latest descendant, King James, the Bard certainly wrote this play.

A likeable head of the future dynasty is Banquo, majestic in the person of Henry Douthwaite who also portrays very successfully, a handful of other characters.

Complementing Fessey as the only other woman in the cast, is Lynne Forbes, accomplishing a remarkable feat. Convincing in the role of Malcolm, Duncan's son & heir, she also is tremendous as Lady MacDuff with tender concern for her children & impassioned defiance to Macbeth's military intruders. Was this not Shakespeare's huge flattery to the Scottish King James who had newly ascended to England's throne? The writer praises the courage & nobility of the king's Scottish subjects at a time when there was in London, widespread animosity toward the northern nation.

Genuine Scot, Murray Simon, performs excellently, the essential but unrewarding roles of Lennox & Ross, hanger-on to one or other of the protagonists, & he is entirely effective in both parts.

The famous drunken "Porter of Hell's gate", plus Prince Donalbain & Fleance, are played by Caine Stanton, making his professional acting debut & he will surely gain valuable insights from this experience among these talented actors.

The young audience at the Taunton's Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre Theatre were wildly enthusiastic in their appreciation of this production of "Macbeth" which continues touring for a while yet & may be available for additional bookings.
Go to www.platform4.org

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