Review: The HandleBards’ Macbeth

Tuesday 25th January 2022 at York Theatre Royal.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The HandleBards are back, and this time they’re taking on Shakespeare’s Macbeth in a loose, comic retelling. As with their recent tour of Romeo and Juliet, this production moves at a mile a minute and keeps all involved on their toes, with Emma Sampson directing three talented actor-musos who deliver the core plot points of the original in under 90 minutes while also providing additional material to find the funny in this famous tragedy…

Much of the comedy here is to be found in clowning and visual punchlines – and this cast deliver some very entertaining sequences of unified movement (Lucy Bishop choreographs) and running gags which build beautifully over time. And with a trio playing so many parts, flair for quick-changes and distinct characterisations is really put to the test.

Kathryn Perkins in particular impresses as an irrepressible live wire – whether she’s posturing as a swaggering cockney Macbeth, gurning and folding herself double as the nurse or flapping about the space as an unhinged witch, she brings impressive energy to all she does. Natalie Simone and Jenny Smith follow this lead, approaching their roles with the same relentless gusto to conjure comically extreme interpretations of Will’s iconic characters – Simone’s diva-riffic take on Lady Macbeth and Smith’s flair for dramatic death (and dramatic pronouncements of death, for that matter) are notable highlights.

Lucy Green’s set design also offers some pleasing gags, from the rotary-type scene change contraption run via leg power to the crown adorned with bicycle lights, there’s little chance of forgetting the HandleBards brand, and it’s all very nicely done indeed.

The defining feature of this Macbeth is definitely the impressive pace which leads the way to plenty of good fun and unapologetic silliness. There are times when the sheer pace and swift shifts in voices and such does mean that lines are lost in the mania though – not too much of a loss when the piece is so visually engaging, but it is likely to be a drawback for those unfamiliar with this tale (even as a playfully “loose” retelling). Romeo and Juliet seems to have been slightly better suited to the HandleBards treatment (and is possibly more open to comic interpretation), but this whacky take on Macbeth from a lively, talented cast will certainly provide plenty of entertainment.

The HandleBards’ Macbeth tours until March 9th 2022 and you can find information and tickets here.

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