A review by Rohini Sunderam
I don’t know which I went to see, Macbeth or the Rose Theatre. I confess the Scottish Play has a particular place in my heart, but the production was, to put it plainly, strange.
I was intrigued by the bill, which claimed it was a “powerful Physical Theatre adaptation (of the play) and that the weird sisters were personifications of the Four Elements”. The original, I knew had only three with a visit from Hecate in Act III.
However, what was more compelling than the bill and the prospect of seeing one of my all-time favourite plays was seeing it at The Rose Theatre. This is an indoor archaeological site built in 1587 and discovered in 1989 during excavations for new office buildings. When two-thirds of the original site were discovered, the public formed a campaign to ‘Save the Rose’ and protect it from redevelopment. The Rose, I learnt on reading one of the leaflets on display, was the first of four playhouses built at Bankside. More exciting was the fact that Shakespeare’s company, based at the nearby Globe Theatre, also on occasion, played here.
Even if you didn’t know the above, the stage for awe is set from the moment you step across the threshold of that innocuous door at 56, Park Street just a few streets away from that more celebrated venue, The Globe. Fanciful or not, you’ll find the air at the Rose carries that wonderful old historic feel you get when you enter the pyramids near Cairo or stand amidst the ruins at Corinth. The damp coolness of the dark, tiny reception area sends a chill down your spine and you can’t help but wonder, “was that a ghost flitting past or just a shadow in the guttering candlelight”.
The space available to the cast is cavernously large, with a pool of water separating the audience from some of the action on the far side. However, the WOH production directed by Manuela Ruggiero, has most of the action up close to the audience who in fact share the stage with the performers. This is quite effective and intense. I’m all keyed up and excited for I am about to witness what is arguably one of the Bard’s darkest plays performed on boards that he may well have trod.
The light gradually reveals Lady Macbeth lying on the floor covered in a red silk sheet while one of the weird sisters whistles and another keeps peering at strange objects that she pulls out from a small pot. A third dark figure does a slow dance to the rhythm of a heartbeat drum. So when the BBC News theme begins and a broadcast tells us of the corporate takeover of a large company and Macbeth enters the stage dressed in a suit, with a mobile in his hand, my willing suspension of disbelief tumbled as did the stock market in the BBC announcement.
I’m not a great fan of these modern interpretations of Shakespearean plays, but every now and then I tell myself ‘let’s give it another chance’. And sadly every time I have been disappointed. An earlier experience was in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. But, that’s another story. At least in the WOH production the script was still recognisable and the cast delivered their lines convincingly and with passion. But, somehow the mixing of metaphors – candles for lighting and mobile phones and the odd combination of occasional dance moves didn’t quite bring it all together for me.
The real star of the evening is The Rose Theatre. And no matter what performance or show you go to witness, you will be nothing short of transported to another era and time. I didn’t stay for the après play and a look around the theatre but I wish I had. The Rose is run entirely by volunteers who have created a marvellous atmosphere that will give you the sense and smells of an Elizabethan playhouse. Thanks to them it’s open every Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Entry is free but a donation is gratefully accepted and will go towards matching funding they’re hoping to receive from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
CAST (in alphabetical order) Carolina Artegiani – Producer LucienCampbell – Darkness Francesca De Sica – Lady Macbeth & Banquo Jonny J Ellis – Lighting Operator Micaela Ghiozzi – weird sister Clive Moore – Macbeth Sophie Nagovitsyna – weird sister Manuela Ruggiero – Writer and Director Paulina Rzeszowska – Costume Designer Ruth Schor – weird sister