(The Crypt School – November 28-30, 2013)
The Crypt play for 2013 was Macbeth. As the work had last been produced in the school in 1963, some fifty years previously, it was an interesting choice. In the event, it proved an excellent one. This production had energy, excitement and invention and provided a splendid evening’s entertainment.
There were many fine performances, in particular from the two principals, Sam Gaffney (Macbeth) and Safah El-Gadi (Lady Macbeth). The success of the play relies heavily on these two characters and the actors did not disappoint.
Mr Gaffney has sensitivity and presence: the ability to elicit sympathy for Macbeth despite his wickedness. His delivery of the famous speeches (“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…” etc) was impressive and moving. Yet he also brought a masculine energy to his performance, creating a convincing portrait of the ‘other’ Macbeth - the ruthless and ambitious warrior.
Ms El-Gadi’s portrayal of Lady Macbeth was outstanding. She managed the transition from scheming murderess to tormented madwoman with great skill: first determined - driving her husband on; then anxious - alarmed by his apparent descent into insanity; and finally - consumed by the horror of what they have done - succumbing to madness herself. Her performance in the sleepwalking scene was splendid – one of the highlights of the evening.
There was a strong group of actors in support. Macduff, played by Tom Berry, was a worthy adversary for Mr Gaffney’s Macbeth. Strong and passionate, he commanded respect. His anguish at the murders of his wife and son was intensely felt and expressed. Duncan (Will Price) and Malcolm (Matt Fry) conveyed the dignity of honourable men, speaking their lines with clear authority. And Banquo, the betrayed friend, was ably played by Edi May – who also turned out to be an accomplished musician.
And then there was the groundling-pleaser, the Porter. What a gift this part is for an actor with the gift of comedy. And Jake Skitt has the gift. Larger (and louder) than life, he entertained throughout.
There were many other praiseworthy performances in a cast that was well bestowed with talent.
But, of course, any theatrical production is a team effort. The actors take the plaudits, but they stand on the shoulders of the unseen: wardrobe assistants, make-up artistes, lighting designers, music composers and players, special effects technicians – and so on. Without these often-unheralded contributors, there would be no production. The Crypt School’s ‘backstage’ teams more than played their part in what proved to be an extremely successful venture.
And that success was very much founded on the work of producer and director, Jo Lucas. Hers was an exciting and innovative approach, a production full of ideas and invention: action played out on three separate levels, including the auditorium; the use of wooden staves not only as weapons in place of swords, but also to provide sound effects suggesting menace and tension; the way the fateful dagger was presented to Macbeth, ‘bewitchingly’ out of reach; the way the murders were handled… There was much more and it was all very effective.
However, the most interesting element of all was Ms Lucas’s interpretation of the famous witches. In her programme note, she told us that her production was ‘based on’ the play by WS. So, rather than the three individual characters of convention, Ms Lucas gave us three ‘choruses’ of witches, each chorus comprising seven or so second-year boys, who shared the lines between them. They flitted around the ‘stage’ in complex patterns that must have taken hours of detailed planning and exhausting rehearsal. When they were not ‘on stage’, they were secreted among the audience, where they provided a constant sense of unease. The entire action was played out in their presence. As a theatrical device this works well, because the witches are fundamental to the story. Without their intervention, would Macbeth ever have turned his ambition into action? The witches foretell the future, but Macbeth makes it happen. Does he have free will, or is he the victim of inescapable destiny? (So much to discuss…)
But Ms Lucas’s ‘take’ on the witches had another, more practical, value. It enabled her to involve a large number of younger actors in the production; to provide them with an exciting experience of performance without exposing any of them to individual pressure. What a wonderful way to initiate and enthuse a new generation of ‘stars’. I expect to see many of them in future productions!
I understand that next year’s play is to be another, more recent, classic, “Oh What a Lovely War!” It will be fascinating to see what Jo Lucas and her company make of that. I, for one, can’t wait!
‘Macbeth’ in the1953 Charles Lepper Production of ‘Macbeth’