The Rondo Theatre does Macbeth

Review by Mick Brian

Photos by Gail Foster

“It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.” So says Macbeth to Lady Macbeth following his vision of Banquo’s ghost….

And audiences at the Rondo Theatre Company’s performances of the titular show last week were not deprived of that substance. From slit throats, gory locks and shirts, to bloodied faces, neckerchiefs and a finale of a trail of blood as Macbeth’s body is unceremoniously dragged from his home, there was no letting up of the blood (pun intended) throughout the riveting two hours of the show.

Directors Matt Nation and Will Jesmond de Clermont’s vision of a 1920s London organised crime gang setting delivered – Peaky Blinders meets William Shakespeare with a gritty, no holds barred presentation of violence inherent in the struggles for supremacy, whether over rival gangs, traitorous turncoats or internal seizure of power and the retributions to maintain power. But this was no pastiche of Tommy Shelby and Co. – this was full Shakespearian tragedy brought into the 20th century brilliantly. Chrissy Fryer’s costumery sublimely captured the era with tweeds, caps, flapper dresses and the ubiquitous used of orange gang colours throughout as neckers, ties, hair ribbons and pocket handkerchief. And no more so that the thoroughly perfect witches, played by Sophie Kerr, Tasha Bye and Anna McGrail, as drug addled opium den management resplendent in flapper dresses, overseen by the powerful Maria Finlay as Hecate.

Set design was simplistically excellent. Duncan’s gangland headquarters a timber merchants’ front – the Birnam Wood Co. of course – and a gauze separated backstage area for the opium den. Which brings further praise for the lighting from Andy Cork, with the dark, sombre mood of the play enhanced by subtle changes… accompanied by the brightness of the opium den to display the rich colours of the silks and drapes therein.

And so to the rest of the cast. Not a single weak member – all thoroughly convincing and believable, fronted by the perfect pairing as Sam Fynn as Macbeth, and Alice Grace as his scheming, power hungry wife. We all looked to the lady as she ensnared her uncertain husband, then dealt with the lecherous and seedy Duncan in turn and tidied up the mess left by Macbeth. Sam Fynn portrayed the slide into madness perfectly as his world collapsed around him, culminating in his torment when Lady M kills herself. I challenge anyone to find a more harrowing depiction of these power crazed lovers, one coldly calculating, the other increasingly crazed.

Rob Finlay played the jovial Banquo who realises oh too late that he is on the hitlist, then the battle hardened and focussed Siward – once he had shaken his gory locks and broken the good mirth at the banquet of course. Maria Finlay as well as Hecate provided wonderful comic relief as the porter cum cleaner – and invented a whole new scene as an epilogue swabbing the floor of Macbeth’s blood. To complete the family set, Freddie Finlay in classic casting style played Fleance, Banquo’s son, as a no mean wielder of a razor himself.

More double up casting saw Steve Brookes as the contemplative, pipe smoking Menteith and a murderer, enacting Macbeth’s violent requests with his fellow despatcher, Ian Diddams. Praise is needed here especially – the fight scene between these two, Banquo and Fleance left no holds barred with stabbings, slicing, punches, and the razored throat cutting. As well as murdering at the drop of a surly hat, Ian Diddams opened the play as Duncan – far from the oft played kindly benevolent leader, this was a nasty, lecherous characterisation fully deserving of losing his life – and fully fitting the gritty vision of the directors.

Thence to Ross, played by Becky Waters, and Lennox , Natalie Prescott, two increasingly disillusioned gang members, And Jack Strawbridge as Malcom, whose journey moved from uncertain, shy son of Duncan to assertive, and even nastier eventual victor, his metamorphosis highlighted by the wash of red light in his victory speech… all that was needed was unfurled swastikas to finalise the image portrayed. Lady Macbeth’s doctor was elegantly and eloquently portrayed by Julia Marshall-Wessendorf… all crisp and professional demeanour, not totally supressing the disquiet and concern beneath. Two further younger cast members joined Freddie Finlay in the show also – Dilan Minto as the brave but doomed Young Siward, hatred for Macbeth pouring from his every pore, and Scarlett Nation, the youngest cast member effortlessly working her way through servant, messenger and slaughtered pretty chicken of Macduff.

And speaking of Macduff… Lucy Upward played the angry Lady MacDuff, remonstrating against the ills of the world as an abandoned wife… and screaming her way to her death before brilliantly appearing as a west country maid to the Lady of the house. Which leaves the hero of the hour… MacDuff himself, silkily played by Chris Constantine exacting revenge for his family’s slaughter by seeing off the chief protagonist in a slashed throat and streak of blood left on set.

Two hours of non stop action delivered at a frenetic pace. Two hours of truly class acting and technical presentation – the piece de resistance being the genius portrayal of Banquo’s lineage of kings presented to Macbeth by the witches. And this is “amateur” theatre – some bloody amateur production that was I say (NOT!) … and bloody they were indeed by the end.

“It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood.”

And they did.

Macbeth, by The Rondo Theatre company, at the Rondo Theatre, Larkhall, Bath, July 6th – 9th 2022.


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