Having established a solid reputation for their atmospheric and stylish Shakespeare adaptations, it was perhaps only a matter of time before Antic Disposition turned their attention to Macbeth. Returning to London’s majestic Temple Church, Ben Horslen and John Risebero’s meticulously detailed production sets the action in the Victorian period, delving into the gender and class politics that lie behind this well-known tale of murderous ambition.
The first and most obvious twist in this tale is the repositioning of the three witches as servants within the royal household. This works incredibly well; safe in the knowledge that they’re as good as invisible to their superiors, the three women are able to become much more active players, observing and enabling the bloody chain of events they’ve unleashed while constantly hidden in plain sight. Robyn Holdaway, Bryony Tebbutt and Louise Templeton are a wonderfully sinister presence, gliding unseen on to the stage and responding with silent, malevolent satisfaction as each new blow in the struggle for power finds its mark.
At the head of a strong cast is Harry Anton’s intriguingly conflicted Macbeth. A commanding physical presence on stage, he’s also a thinker who never acts without first considering all implications, pronouncing each line of his soliloquies with great deliberation and control. This frequently – and understandably – irritates his wife, who’s much more capable of seizing the moment and turning it to her advantage. As with the witches, Helen Millar’s performance is beautifully detailed, her eyes and body language frequently communicating what she can’t say aloud. The dynamic between the two shifts back and forth – when they’re alone he’s submissive to her will, but in public she must step back and play the charming hostess, and her frustration at having to rely on her husband to get the job done is palpable.
The rest of the cast offer strong support, with Andrew Hislop particularly impressive as a vengeful and grief-stricken Macduff, and Chris Courtenay an authoritative yet sympathetic Duncan. I also really enjoyed the touch of comedy brought to the role of Ross by Robert Bradley; his attempts at awkward small talk just before the discovery of Duncan’s body are all too relatable.
The production makes excellent use of the venue – though I imagine an evening performance would do so even more effectively than the matinee I attended. The action is presented on a traverse stage, with the audience frequently invited in as guests at the Macbeths’ feast or soldiers in the final battle. Admittedly there are a few issues with acoustics, particularly when actors are facing away – but that’s an occupational hazard in a building like this one and while a few lines of dialogue may be lost, ultimately it doesn’t detract from the atmosphere or impact of the performance. This is further heightened by James Burrows’ music, which subtly signposts the key dramatic moments without distracting from them.
Antic Disposition have set the bar pretty high with their previous work, but Macbeth certainly doesn’t disappoint – if anything, it begs a second visit to catch all the little details we may have missed first time around. A visually striking and deliciously creepy production with impressive performances across the board, this adaptation may make you look at Macbeth with fresh eyes. Failing that, it might just give you a nightmare or two – but it’s worth it.
Macbeth is at Temple Church until 7th September.