The Scottish Play was a brave choice for Rod Henderson’s directorial debut for Sevenoaks Shakespeare Society – such a well-known piece that has been done in so many different ways over the years. His task was seemingly made harder by the decision to use a small cast (comprising nine performers, many doubling or tripling their roles) and attempting to condense this heavy piece into a mere 90 minutes.
Performed in a ¾ round with three performance levels, the staging was simple but effective with the use of costume to denote the change in characters for those multi-role players. For the most-part those with multiple roles differentiated between their characters successfully, particularly Alexandra Grist whose portrayal of Fleance was delightful and a stark contrast to her Malcolm and Lady Macduff, though some further alteration of character voice for some performers might have been useful. The comedy of the Porter (Chris Cole), which English teachers always find so important for breaking the tension in this tragedy, was well directed with some amusing visual jokes.
Cathy Bourne’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth was strong and defiant, with her sudden descent into madness being captured tremendously through her use of gesture and language, as well as the intense lighting design. Richard Banks proved an admirable Macbeth, a famously difficult role, managing to show his transition from loyal soldier to murderous villain, the ultimate anti-hero.
David Puckridge was a magnificent Banquo, particularly excelling in his eerie portrayal of his ghost at the Banquet and in the visions brought on by the witches [Emma Richardson, Lauren-Jean Reeves and Ella Banks].
One felt that there were a few too many over-eager prompts (and sadly one that was noticeably wanted did not come in a timely fashion) but on the whole this did not detract from the strength of the production or performances.
In a generally strong ensemble, there were a couple of weaker performances which did detract momentarily, but the production was so engaging and the company worked so convincingly as a team that you were able to overlook any visible lacks of focus or connection to their character.
For the final fight, the production would have benefited from a larger performance area – I noted a couple of audience members shifting back uncomfortably as Macduff (Stephen Malyon) was thrown back towards them with his broadsword, and there seemed something a little lacking from the actual combat.
There were some wonderful touches such as Fleance playing chess with one of the witches, mirroring manipulation of the pawns in Macbeth’s game that would ultimately lead to Fleance’s accession and the use of magicians’ tricks to dispose of Lady Macbeth’s letter from her husband in a suitably supernatural manner.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable production, and although it may have benefited from an extra cast member due to some of the costume changes having to occur onstage (yet this was skilfully covered by utilising the witches and their hypnotic powers and use of the players as puppets to carry out their will), it achieved what the director set out to do – a small ensemble cast performing a condensed version in a studio theatre style. A production that can successfully be toured as part of a Theatre In Education programme and would be an excellent revision tool for GCSE students.