James Fennemore previews Macbeth, to be showing 23rd-25th November in the JDP Auditorium, St Hilda’s.
Another year, another Macbeth. Though their choice of play may be lacking in adventure, St Hilda’s Dramatic Society’s offering promises to be a production more fair than foul. To begin with, it was a pleasure to attend a preview that had been so meticulously organised, and one in which the cast seemed scrupulously prepared, even two weeks before the first night.
Macbeth, the society’s highest budgeted production to date, is set in a post-apocalyptic world of barren grimness. It is, after all, ‘The Scottish Play’. Director Luke Jew promises a rugged, intense atmosphere, complemented by a minimalistic set and steely lighting, performed in the imposing Jacqueline du Pré building.
Most of the cast, encompassing novices and more experienced thesps, were already exceptionally fluent. Close attention to detail has been paid to many of the larger speeches of the play, and the dialogue is confidently energetic. The strength of the supporting roles is particularly impressive, with Rosalind Gealey and Edwin Price emotionally engaging as Ross and Macduff respectively. Adam Gethin-Jones also stands out, portraying a captivatingly sinister and ruthless porter.
Yet the production is far from perfect. Neither Lady Macbeth, nor the eponymous thane seemed to live up to the standard set by the rest of the cast. Granted, it is difficult to judge an entire performance on just the few scenes that were presented, and it cannot be easy performing ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…’ without the emotional momentum of the previous four acts, but Iain Stewart’s portrayal of Macbeth fell a little flat. It is, perhaps, a backhanded compliment to say that Alicia Luba has been miscast as Lady Macbeth, lacking chilling presence or sinister coldness. Maybe she’s just too nice a person. There is, of course, still plenty of time for these characters to develop, but it is a necessity that is essential for the production’s success.
The style of direction also felt slightly at odds with the declared atmospheric intentions of the piece. Though undoubtedly competent, the movement felt too rigidly blocked to convey the looser, grittier reality of the director’s vision, whilst the delivery also sometimes felt too self-consciously staged, losing the intensity of the emotional realism needed.
This is by no means a bad production. A great deal of excellent work has been put into what is a very promising college play. Yet if it is going to excel and excite, it needs to stop being so careful. That is its tragedy.