Vivid and passionate, Little Theatre production captures Macbeth’s essence

MACBETH, Little Theatre, Athenaeum until Saturday March 8. Reviewed by Gillian McAinsh.

BLOODY AMIBITION: Helen Flax and Gareth Bain shine in the lead roles in 'Macbeth'. Picture: CHRIS GERTSCH
BLOODY AMIBITION: Helen Flax and Gareth Bain shine in the lead roles in ‘Macbeth’. Picture: CHRIS GERTSCH

ALL hail to the cast and crew of Macbeth which opened this week at the Little Theatre: your Braveheart interpretation of this classic Shakespeare tragedy captures its bloodlust and intrigue – and then some.

And, if you avoid the annual Shakespeare production because you fear hours of incomprehensible English by men in tights, attacked by mosquitoes and buffeted by wind, you are in for a treat as this year’s offering is surprisingly good.

It helps that the seats at the Athenaeum theatre are comfortable – unlike the customary venue of Mannville Open-Air Theatre – but it helps even more that the cast is passionate about the play with heart-felt performances under the strong direction of Lesley Barnard.

She has brought a strong Scottish flavour to the joint venture between the Port Elizabethan Shakespearean Festival and Pemads, and any doubt that an indoor stage was not as menacing as leafy Mannville was swept away by the vivid use of lighting, music and sound effects across a versatile multi-purpose set.

The flame-haired Barnard would herself have made a stunning Lady Macbeth but no one could argue with the full- blooded performance given by talented Helen Flax whose first appearance in a crimson velvet dress presages the gallons of blood to be spilt – and the evil that men do.

Gareth Bain also shines as lead Macbeth, the ambitious Thane of Glamis smoothly “hiding the daggers in men’s smiles” while pursuing his vaulting ambition. Together they make a fearsome pair, with their famous soliloquies impeccably delivered.

Robert van den Ordel, Mark Farrow, David Roll and last minute stand-in Sebastian Beecroft are also excellent as Malcolm, Macduff, Duncan and Lennox, while Liz Yates’s tipsy porter tossed in much-needed laughter at just the right moment.

Thankfully the company does not attempt Scottish accents, but the body language and excellent costumes (Brigitte Mann sewed her fingers to the bone executing Barnard’s vision) assist in getting the message across despite an occasional lack of clarity and presence.

Minor quibbles of one or two lightweight or double-up castings can be forgiven as this is, after all, an amateur production, and Port Elizabeth does not have that large a cauldron of willing thespians. More are needed: “all the world’s a stage” so “screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.”

Finally, to paraphrase Lady Macbeth: “Out, damn cellphone! out, I say!” For a mobile to go off once in the theatre is bad enough, but at the Pemads gala one rang an unforgivable three or four times, “a tale told by an idiot” indeed.

ýMacbeth is at 7.30pm until March 8. There will be no show tomorrow but there is a 2.30pm matinee on Sunday.

Bookings are at Computicket, school block bookings are through Helen Wilkins on (041) 581-1738 or by e-mailing: helebel@telkomsa.netand there are free study notes at the door for students.

 

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