'Macbeth' review or 'Is this an alien insect witch I see before me?'

'Macbeth', Shakespeare/Iris Theatre
28th June 2017
Written for Time Out

One of the first questions anyone asks of a production of ‘Macbeth’ is: ‘what did they do with the witches?’ Well, the Iris Theatre and costume designer Anna Sances haven’t held back. Their weird sisters are part-alien, part-insect, part-gas mask. One stalks about on stilts, another has sprouted feathers and the third has a praying mantis clamped to its face. I’m not entirely sure what they mean but they’re great fun – and indicative of a show that tries slightly too hard to be wacky but has masses of flair and wit. 
The context of Daniel Winder’s production of Shakespeare’s tragedy – which roams in and around St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden – can best be described as ‘spooky mythology with a rusty hue’. The costumes look like medieval versions of Marvel superheroes, with armoured corsets, studded jackets and flowing locks. Designer Alice Channon has draped the courtyard trees in blistering lava and the performance spaces are separated by a giant portal of hell doors, awash with bright red flames.
It’s all a bit chaotic and it often feels like the wild costumes, bold set and alien witches are pulling us in opposite directions. But there are flashes of magic in here, particularly once the light starts to fade and the bulging tress, eerie church and smoky battlefields begin to grab hold of the audience.
Yet despite these imaginative flourishes it is the simple chamber scenes that resonate most strongly. Mogali Masuku’s Lady Macbeth has a sheer emotional force that exerts a crazy will of its own; her cries of rage translate into action. David Hywel Baynes’s Macbeth looks like a poet who has stumbled onto a battlefield. Here is a man susceptible to visions but still desperate to make sense of the world. It is with real disgust and sorrow that Macbeth spits out those final haunting words: ‘Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.’


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