Review: Macbeth, Temple Church

Something wicked this way comes…to London’s Temple Church to be precise. Antic Disposition, renowned for producing innovative interpretations of classic stories, returns to this iconic venue following the success of previous productions of Romeo and Juliet, Henry V and Richard III. This time it’s the turn of one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, Macbeth, a dark story of power, greed and murder.

One of the oldest churches in London, Temple Church was built by the Knights Templar and, with its rich past and stone effigies of medieval knights inside, it makes the perfect stage for Ben Horslen and John Risebero’s adaptation. The audience are situated either side of the traverse staging as they watch the action play out. The echoing walls of the temple and candles dotted up and down the aisle combine with James Burrows’ dramatic music to add to the eeriness of the play.

There have been numerous performances of ‘the Scottish play’ over the years, but what sets this production apart from more recent plays, as well as the beautiful venue, is the innovative ideas from the directors. In this production, the women are front and centre. The witches (played by Louise Templeton, Bryony Tebbutt and Robyn Holdaway) are maids in Macbeth’s household, taking on a more prominent role. They’re always lurking in the background as they weave their magic over Macbeth, and it’s easy to see why he falls under their spell with the three of them constantly watching over him.

After a slightly slow start the action soon speeds up, with the second act particularly impressing with its drama and particularly powerful ending. Special mention should also go to fight director Bethan Clark for the believable altercations between the characters, the action happening so close to the audience that they feel as though they’re about to become part of the battle.

Antic Disposition’s gripping tale of Macbeth is brought to life by a strong cast of ten led by Harry Anton, who puts in a commendable performance as Macbeth. He’s a little quiet and brooding at times when the character is more reflective, but he really comes into his own as the play progresses and the King slowly descends into madness. He’s supported well by Peter Collis as Banquo, while Andrew Hislop commands the stage as Macduff, Temple Church’s acoustics suiting his strong stage presence. Elsewhere Robert Bradley, Chris Courtenary and Nathan Hamilton also impress. But this is Lady Macbeth’s play, and Helen Millar excels as Macbeth’s manipulative wife, constantly engaged even when the action is trained elsewhere. It’s almost impossible to take your eyes off of her when she’s in the background of scenes, her emotive facial expressions enriching her performance. Lady Macbeth’s blood-red dress in the second act, courtesy of costume designer Hanna Wilkinson, is particularly inspired and ensures that the focus remains on her at all times. As mentioned, Ben Horslen and John Risebero place the witches in a more prominent role, and Louise Templeton, Bryony Tebbutt and Robyn Holdaway really are a treat, constantly watching the action, reacting with a smirk or two when things go their way. One of the most powerful moments in this production is when they get together for the infamous cauldron scene (in this instance a laundry tub). Watching the three actors chant in unison as the witches weave their spell is enough to give goosebumps, and it’s at that moment the audience realises they’re watching something special.

A tale of power, betrayal and murder, Antic Disposition’s Macbeth is a delightfully dark, inspired production. With impressive performances from a standout cast in a beautiful and atmospheric setting, this is certainly a Macbeth to remember.

Macbeth is playing at Temple Church until 7 September.

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Photo credit: Scott Rylander

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