Saturday, 22 June 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: MacBeth - Ordsall Hall, Salford.


On the first bright evening of June, I found myself perched on a camping chair, celebrating the great British sunshine with an evening of open air Shakespeare. On this midsummer’s eve, it wasn’t to be the play about fairies and imps which was the ‘two hours traffic of this stage’ but the Bard’s Scottish tragedy of Macbeth. The venue, Ordsall Hall, a wonderful Elizabethan black and white half-timbered manor-house dating back over 600 years. What makes this historic house so unique is that it sits amidst the sprawling urbanisation of Salford’s housing and ever growing high rises. The hall itself is well worth a visit as the staff were extremely friendly and helpful upon our arrival. Despite one or two outside interruptions of ice cream vans and the nearby tramline, this was an ideal venue for the Scottish tragedy to be staged and was a perfect evening out for families, couples and friends.

Like any touring company, this troupe travel with everything they need to perform their play, in the back of a van. In the case of these, the Three Inch Fools, this included an impressively constructed wooden stage, which elevated the performance to a perfect height for sight lines. I was so impressed with this stage that I asked the staff if this was in fact belonging to the hall for resident performers and other touring companies. Apparently not, they construct it in each venue! The majority of their costumes and props were hand-held and the largest proportion of the set design featured various musical instruments, which were to be a feature of the performance. The use of live music is, in fact, the unique selling point of the Thee Inch Fools’ productions and their lively folk style using accordion, violins, drums and banjo, created an authentic Celtic mood. This worked equally well to create the eerie drumming of distant wars and impending doom, at other significant points in the plot and I particularly enjoyed the screeching violins depicting Lady Macbeth’s mental state in act two. These are indeed a talented bunch of actor-musicians.

There were five performers in the troupe and all were equally adept in the art of acting, so I’m not going to single anyone out. They had a very clear sense of stage presence and fantastically projected voices, suited to the open air space. I was sat at the back of the audience and didn’t lose one word throughout. Their physical characterisation using freeze frames and slow motion to mark significant moments in the plot worked extremely well and the simple costumes changes to switch roles were easy to follow. I was slightly underwhelmed by the witches in act one but they were much improved by the second act when, by their final appearance suited the description of ‘the weird sisters’ with some stunning characterisation using zombie-like twitching.. .these were the witches I would have loved to have seen in act one.

As much as I love Shakespeare and indeed, this particular play, I felt this version was a slow starter in act one. The music played a lively part in the abridging of the text and although this was entertaining, I became lost in the plot in these moments (despite knowing the story and script quite well), so I imagine a novice would be quite confused. The second half moved with much more energy and the music really took over, bringing a clear sense of pace to the story and Macbeth’s untimely end. That said, I would still recommend this production if it’s touring near you as it is a great night out to gather with friends and loved ones, with a picnic and a bottle of wine and the Three Inch Fools as they really do know how to put on a show and entertain with music and a great story, in fabulous surroundings . . .what more could you ask for?

The Three Inch Fools’ tour continues across the country until late September.

Reviewer - Johanna Hassouna-Smith
on - 21/6/19

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