The Pilch is a dark and gloomy place. One day I went in there at 9am, and when I came out at midday it was like seeing daylight for the first time. It’s an appropriate place for a heavy tragedy about murder and betrayal. The world of Macbeth is effectively constructed by letting the bare darkness of the Pilch do the heavy lifting, augmented by the powerful lighting and sound, both of which remained interesting and effective throughout.
This was a production of Macbeth that brought out the tension and the humour. As Macbeth (Leah Aspden) returned from the murder, the audience listened in stunned silence at the horror of his immediate regret. When Lady Macbeth (Juliette Imbert) urged him to return the daggers to the scene, I felt a sudden and ill-timed urge to sneeze, but I couldn’t ruin this moment. “I’ll go no more: I am afraid to think what I have done,” I heard in one ear from Macbeth. And from myself in the other: “Don’t sneeze, Kian. For God’s sake, don’t sneeze.”
But it was also funny. The comedy of Macbeth was, to put it one way, taken seriously. The porter (Oliver Tanner) gave an admirable performance, and the audience loved it. “I pray you, remember the porter”, I was warned, and don’t worry: I have. I also remember Macbeth raising laughs throughout the play in unexpected but appropriate places. Then there was the less appropriate laughter, perhaps, in response to Malcolm (Ethan Bareham) telling Macduff (Hetta Johnson) that ‘there’s no bottom, none, in my voluptuousness’, which had many of us chuckling away, me included, I confess, even by the word ‘bottom’.
In general I think the flaw of the production is that there was humour at some points where there shouldn’t have been. No one should be laughing when Malcolm discovers that his father has been murdered. If that is happening, the tone of the scene needs to change. I don’t mind the ‘very bare stage’ (which is in fact a completely bare stage), I don’t mind the odd email notification going off (you can never escape Oxford, eh?), but laughter at points of pathos ruins them, and that I do mind.
Andrew Raynes’ production of Macbeth is a successful exploration of the play’s tension and comedy, and the cast and crew should be congratulated on bringing that out. The production succeeds in creating the world of Macbeth, and is blessed with some very talented actors which help bring it to life (and I apologise to those whom this review does not mention). It is punctuated by the odd blip, where the comedy seems to go too far, but it is overall a play well made, and a job well done.