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Theatre Review: Macbeth at the White Bear, Kennington

by Natalie Bennett

I’ve seen Macbeth in many guises: there was a space-age one set on a rocket in Sydney decades ago, a traditional production at the Sydney Opera House that used so much dry ice we nearly choked in the front row, and a terribly faithful in costume work set in the trenches of the Great War effort in London some years ago.

But I’ve never seen a Macbeth set in Depression-era America that started with a dance competition. There may be a reason for that – it just doesn’t quite work. Yes, there are a lot of plays at the moment dealing with the banking crash, the economic crisis et al, but trying to turn Shakespeare’s dramatic masterpiece to that subject really isn’t going to fly.

Overall, however, more goes right than wrong in the TheatreTroupe’s production at the White Bear Theatre. The Scottish play can go terribly astray, but here, leveraged around a strong performance by Matthew Jure in the lead role, is a show that generally grips, compels, engages.

It takes a little while to get used to a bearded, physically less than dominating Macbeth, and Jure never quite convinces as a warrior, but as a man teased, tormented and overwhelmed by temptation, he’s a powerful onstage force.

The other aspect of this production that’s outstanding is the witches – so often played to stereotype, but here conveyed through more-than-lifesized masks and puppetry. The menace is curiously uncartoonish, despite the manner of its production, and definitely has the audience shrinking back in their seats.

One of the other highlights is the highly physical clowning of Abigail Palmer, who as a masked sailor’s wife cavorts across the small White Bear stage with a controlled passion for life.

Not all of the cast is so strong – Nicola Baylis as Lady Macbeth has moments that convince, but struggles to contain the hysteria of the second act, and Tim Pont as Duncan, Malcolm and a cast of other characters never really differentiates between them or makes any distinctive.

But if you want to convince a young person recently subjected to Macbeth as an object of dull and dragging study (or soon to be so), that this is an alive, vital, real work of the playwrights’ art, rather than taking them to a traditional piece of stodgy classicana, this would be an excellent alternative.

And for me, who just loves this supreme piece of the Bard’s art – well this is definitely one to add to the collection, even if I’d rather than dropped the dance competition.

Macbeth continues at the White Bear until October 11. It is at the Kings Head in Islington on October 18.


  1. Charles Grant

    October 4, 2009 at

    Wow, you must know the guy playing, or rather destroying Macbeth to say it was a strong performance. There was no soldier, no poetry, a character that would have been bad in a village panto and when we saw it last Thursday, barely any of the right words. We were treated to lines like ‘A dagger of the BRAIN’ and ‘Kinsman & SLAVE’.He and Lady M were shockingly awful, always pausing then shouting for no reason, and neither seemed to know iambic pentameter, or understand what they were saying. The girl playing Ross and Lady Macduff and the guy as Banquo and Ross were the only ones who seemed to understand the play at all. I wanted to leave but my wife said the theatre would have looked even emptier than it was. At least we know what the author thinks of this performers insane rantings as Macbeth.
    ,”O, there be players that I have seen play, and heard others praise, and that highly, not to speak it profanely,
    that, neither having the accent of Christians nor
    the gait of Christian, pagan, nor man, have so
    strutted and bellowed that I have thought some of
    nature’s journeymen had made men and not made them well, they imitated humanity so abominably.”
    If you want to see it done properly, avoid this and the rent Anthony Sher that was on Sky Arts recently.

  2. Natalie

    October 4, 2009 at

    Hi Charles,

    For the record, I’ve never set eyes on the actor playing Macbeth before.

    Reviewing always is a matter of opinion – and also perhaps of the standards that you expect.

    I expect something different on the fringe to I do from the RSC.

  3. Charles Grant, you have a lot of anger inside you for a man that paid, at the most, £10 for a fringe production. (that is to say if you did actually pay and not get in on a comp).
    I have seen this production and while I do not agree with all the sentiments this reviewer offers, you appear to have been offended at what the actors have presented.
    Tickets for the latest RSC production are £42. Might I suggest that you take your anally retentive attitude towards Shakespeare there.

  4. Simon Paterson

    October 10, 2009 at

    I’m being pestered by my twins to write this. We saw Alls Well That Ends Well at the National Theatre for £10 last week and while I was a little confused, they loved it, so on the strength of your piece I got us tickets for Macbeth around the corner at the White Bear which they are studying it at school. They were so upset we had to leave at the interval. I thought it was ok, but the children insisted Macbeth didn’t know his words and when he got them right he didn’t understand what they meant. I suppose I should be grateful that they have better english teachers than I had when we did Shakespeare at school.

  5. Natalie

    October 13, 2009 at

    Hi Simon,
    I’m sorry your twins didn’t like it – if they were expecting something like the RSC, then I could see it would have been a shock.
    There are a lot of good things at the White Bear – I hope you can persuade them to give it another go some time,

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