Review: Macbeth at Stafford Castle

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Clare Prenton

Macbeth, known as the Scottish play is being performed in many places across the country but none like this.

This is the only production that can have the glorious backdrop of the ruins of Stafford Castle. Production designer Simon Kenny has made sure to blend the backdrop of the castle against the set on stage clearing taking a lot of inspiration from the 900AD historic architecture. It’s almost as if the set is part of the ruins itself.

Director Clare Prenton started to direct the Stafford Festival Shakespeare productions in 2016. She certainly must like the number three. This is her third time at the helm of the festival, directing a play with three Witches and as Penton explains in the programme, even the set even has three arches as the centrepiece! It’s clear then that this intricacy of detail is what creates the tempo and atmosphere. Prenton encaptures the tragic intensity while also offering a unique and exciting piece by taking inspiration from TV, Film and history. She mentions Game of Thrones and even the Ring as some noteworthy influences.

While as any Shakespearean Traedgy there is inevitable a lot of death, most of the most vulgar elements are completed off stage. There is something more sinister and overwhelming about these crimes being committed off stage particularly when it comes to the fate of Macduff’s young family. This is further explored when Macduff played by Daniel Cahill is informed. Cahill’s upset at the loss of his family is heartbreaking and moving.

It’s very apt that as the sun starts to set, the atmosphere of the play also darkens. This is when Peter Harrison’s lighting design creates further intimacy and atmosphere. In addition, David Hewson’s compositions focusing mainly on bagpipes and drums thump up the tension that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Rosie Hilal performs Lady Macbeth as a mother still overcoming the loss of her child. It adds an additional layer to the character that is sometimes not explored. Similarly, Bil Stuarts Macbeth, while starts out mighty and powerful, quickly becomes terribly power crazed.  As with the whole cast, his smooth Scottish accent makes it easy to follow the Shakespearean verse.

The three witches played by Nicola Jo Cully, Mairi Hawthorn and Sian Mannifield are very sinister and devilish. Movement Director Kane Husbands has worked with them to develop a rather eery and slimly moment that makes the skin crawl.

With an authentic Scottish feel, set in front of a historic castle, it is almost as if this production is being performed somewhere like Edinburgh Castle. From using birds of prey, the array of tartan and the bagpipes the Scottish play has well and truly returned to its medieval roots in Stafford. Under the direction of Penton, the tragic tale of Macbeth is performed as one of adventure, murder and a touch of horror. With the backdrop of Stafford Castle in the background the whole atmosphere of the piece grips you from the offset and doesn’t let you go until the very end.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

*Ticket Face Value £14. For more info on this new value for money rating please visit here: Introducing a new kind of rating

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