Shrewsbury School

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…”

Thursday 7 March 2019

Director of Drama Helen Brown reviews Churchill's house play - a powerful and cleverly contemporary production of 'Macbeth', performed over two evenings last week in the Ashton Theatre.

Richard Hudson’s modern-dress production welcomed the audience into the boardroom of Scotland Plc, drawing parallels between the cut-throat brutality of medieval warfare and the contemporary world of mergers and acquisitions.

Tom Allen’s Macbeth was not a battle-scarred warrior but a power-hungry, sharp-suited businessman with an eye for the main chance. After his bravura performance as Richard III in the Fourth Form, I was looking forward to seeing Allen tackle another of Shakespeare’s great anti-heroes, and he did not disappoint, demonstrating a crisp, intelligent control of the verse that made the complexities of the language utterly intelligible.

Following a hostile takeover bid by rivals Norway Plc, Macbeth returns home, to be accosted en route by a trio of witches – played here by the Wyrd Sisterhood Cleaning Services, brandishing mops and dusters, the linguistic transition from the early 21st to the early 17th century provided by the metatheatrical discovery in the waste paper bin of a discarded copy of Macbeth, reminding them of their school days when they once played the Wyrd Sisters.

 

The Upper Sixth triumvirate of Will Hope, Harry Remnant and Toby Pattinson have given sterling service to school and house drama over the last five years, and it was hugely impressive to see them delivering such well-judged cameo performances in the same week as their A level trials.

 

 

The witches deliver a prophecy: Macbeth will become Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and finally King of Scotland. His friend Banquo (played with maturity and gravitas by Elliot Crossley) will be the father of kings, but never rule himself. As the play unfolds, we see the lengths to which Macbeth is prepared to go in order to fulfil the prophecy and achieve ultimate power.

He is spurred on in his actions by his ambitious, ruthless wife, played by Imogen Morgan (G). The modern context threw up interesting interpretative possibilities here: left at home, unwelcome in the wholly masculine world above the glass ceiling, Lady Macbeth’s cruelty seemed to stem from thwarted abilities given no outlet. Her high heels and cocktail dress providing a stark contrast to the suits surrounding her, her intelligence was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Her final descent into madness – beautifully played by Morgan – seemed inevitable.

One of the challenges in staging classical tragedy is how to deal with the body count – and this is one of Shakespeare’s bloodiest plays. The director made clever use of multi-media throughout – both video and text-messaging – to assist with the storytelling, and credit is due to Petr Rostokin (O) for his brilliant video editing. The filmed murder of Lady Macduff and her children (Eve Hartley (G), Theo Bould, Morgan Matthews and Karl Salman) in the insalubrious environs of the Churchill’s cellar was particularly chilling, and gave added poignancy to the moment when Macduff (Hugh Mackinnon) hears of their deaths.

This was a whole-house production, so it is impossible to single out every member of the cast. I am always delighted when house drama unearths unexpected talent and gives students an opportunity to perform on the Ashton stage. Alongside the five drama scholars in the cast were plenty who have never performed before, and they deserve particular praise.

HRB

Please click on the large image below to open and scroll through a gallery of photos taken by Dr Richard Case.

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