May 24 2018 | By More

★★☆☆☆   Darkly modest

Assembly Roxy: Wed 23 – Sat 26 May 2018
Review by Rebecca Heap

The Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Company take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth at Assembly Roxy this week, in a production which leans into all the horror and gore the tragedy reveals.

Macbeth has a wonderful dangerous quality to it, a tale of witches prophesy, betrayal and a determined, bloody fight for royal supremacy. The man Macbeth starts out as a lauded military hero but soon descends down the path of regicide for his own gain. Such hubris can only end when Birnam Wood marches to Dunsinane.

The Macbeths. Jacques Kerr and Rhiannon King. Pic: EGTG.

The Grads certainly present a by-the-book introduction to the Scottish play. Besides all the horror and gore, Assembly Roxy’s main hall with its high domed ceiling, columns and flagstones adds dramatic weight. But such a backdrop demands big performances full of charisma. Regrettably, the cast of Macbeth often fall short of this expectation.

Despite promising red gloomy haze and thunderclaps, Shakespeare’s iconic figures of the fates, the witches, are disappointingly flat. The three – Hilary Davies, Helena Kolberg and Vanashree Thapliyal – open the show quietly and calmly, not at all symbols of volatile conflict and chaos. Worse, they are inexplicably positioned hunched on the floor in front of the stage, obscured from sight.

It is encouraging to see actors of all ages tackling the challenging Shakespeare dialogue. Yet there are occasions where actors without much or any dialogue in a scene pull focus for the wrong reasons. Brian Thomson delivers a jovial pleasant King Duncan but has to compete with a supporting cast who stand either inactive and out of character or fidgeting if not their turn to speak. Such demonstrations are distracting and dis-engaging,

Jacques Kerr’s Macbeth relaxes into his role by the second half, more comfortable playing a mad king than the uneasy morality of a man who is wrestling with his ambition and his loyalty.

shades of light and dark

Such a complex and intense role deserves its time on stage to brood. Yet the first act’s fraught insecurity is rushed past without hesitation and much of the glittering dialogue is seemingly left without due consideration. This being said, Macbeth’s villainy is soon cemented and with this coherence, Kerr brings forth shades of light and dark to his performance in the dramatic final scenes.

The Witches. Hilary Davies, Helena Kolberg and Vanashree Thapliyal. Pic: EGTG

Rhiannon King as Lady Macbeth is a great presence on stage, her transformation from plotter to a tormented and guilt-riddled queen is a stark one which demands a confident performer. In each scene King brings an element of frailty to the heart of Lady Macbeth, achieving the sympathetic portrayal that director Naomi Wallis-Ryder sets out to achieve here.

Wallis-Ryder makes much of the pas de deux between the Macbeths in her note and direction. The couple mirror each other’s actions on stage, talk freely and hold each other’s bloodied hands in the dark of night when the deed is done.

This production embarks on a mission to challenge the perception of Lady Macbeth as a calculating and coercive villain, to an equal partner in crime. In doing so, by playing down the dialogue of accusation and challenges to Macbeth’s masculinity, much of the strength of her character is lost. It is perhaps self-indulgent to push such an interpretation by suppressing the intention behind the lines.

ethereal knocking

There are a few scenes that are undercut by loud audio tracks, such as a constant ethereal knocking. When played sparingly these can work well – but left on throughout a scene they become irritating and distracting. In another scene, the sound of babies crying carries on with the volume left unchecked which makes it positively difficult to hear the actress – although Caroline Hood as Lady Macduff did well to strain above the noise.

Caroline Hood and Matthew O’Hagan. Pic: EGTG

Sound Designer Camy Chisholm makes suitably eerie choices, the soundscape compressing the blasted heath and all ill deeds occurring inside the castle. It is unfortunate that the volume and repetition of such sounds eventually becomes a detraction.

Where this production fails is often a lack of engagement with the meaning behind the dialogue, lines spoken without emotional connection tend to fall into a void. Despite this, it is by no means an unmitigated disaster – it works as an introduction to Shakespeare, capturing the key elements and plot points in a condensed version designed to convey the major forces of lust, ambition, betrayal and guilt.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (including one interval)
Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU
Wednesday 23 – Saturday 26 May 2018.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details:

The Grads website:
Facebook: @edingrads
Twitter: @TheGrads

Alastair Lawless, Jacques Kerr, Brian Thomson, James Sullivan, Sam Carlisle, James Scott, Martin Foreman and Brian Neill. Pic: EGTG.



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