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Theater Review (London): Macbeth at the White Bear, Kennington

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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 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 among them or makes any distinctive.

But if you want to convince a young person recently (or soon to be) subjected to Macbeth as an object of dull and dragging study, 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 they'd dropped the dance competition.

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

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About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.