"Solid performances from strong cast"
by Tim Mottershead for remotegoat on 06/11/07

Subterranean Splendour of Shakespeare's Sinister Scottish play

On All Hallow's Eve and three subsequent evenings, the 1623 theatre company, devoted to presenting Shakespeare in non-traditional theatre spaces, did just that by performing Macbeth against the backdrop of the spectacular chambers of Poole's Cavern, Buxton, Derbyshire.

The tone for the evening was set by the three weird sisters, who roamed amongst the gathering audience prior to the play's commencement, and pushed and cajoled them towards the cavern with commands of "come!" Entering the cavern confirmed this tone as one immediately noticed a drop in temperature, followed by reduced visibility through the fog and filthy air, eerily illuminated by candlelight. The weird sisters herded us into place for the first key scene: their predictions to Macbeth and Banquo, in a setting perfectly capturing Shakespeare's intentions.

With Macbeth already promoted to Thane of Cawdor, a short walk took us to the corridors of Glamis castle and his meeting with his wife as they contemplated with a mixture of fascination and dread how his kingship might be attained. This same chamber was also used for the subsequent dagger scene; and later for the banquet scene when Banquo's ghost appears, and for Macbeth's confrontation with the weird sisters in the famous cauldron scene. Other parts of the cavern were put to equally telling effect, such as the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff, set against guardrail overlooking a drop to chamber floor, which to my mind was reminiscent of a castle's battlements. There was plenty of attention to detail too: as we promenaded from one scene to another, there was plenty of blood and guts, and the odd dead body hastily covered for our delectation!

However, it should be noted that although the production was clearly enhanced by the unique atmosphere of the location, it was underpinned by solid performances from a strong cast of 11 players. With the weird sisters ever-present in their addition role of ushers, they had a bigger than usual impact which required they remain 'in character' throughout the evening. Special mention too should be made of Adam Buss as Macbeth and Jane Upton as Lady Macbeth, who every facet of their roles - from their first promises of greatness, through the dawning realisation of what this was to mean in practical terms, their scheming and plotting, and their subsequent inexorable, yet tragic, decline as they reap what they have sown - convinced, both as a team, and as individual actors.

How many other places could you go to and imbibe a large dose of high culture, endure both the cold temperature, drips from spectacular stalactites, stand for over two and half hours, (and also be served welcoming and complimentary hot chocolate by Macbeth's sinister henchman Seyton!) and yet declare you had thoroughly enjoyed the experience? Such is the special magic of Poole's cavern. Let us hope this is first of many return visits by a special theatre company: 1623.

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