Photo: Philip Tragen

Taking my seat for Shakespeare often fills me with a sense of dread. Whilst I have seen some excellent productions over the years, I have also seen some totally awful ones too, and the worst ever an utterly impenetrable rendering of Macbeth, awful enough to make me never want to see it again. So here I am ready to face that fear in a production where two actors would be taking on every role.

I need not have been worried, Out of Chaos, a company based here in Brighton and Hove, have nailed it. The project has been very much formed as an educational exercise working with ATG Creative Learning, a brilliant wing of the Ambassadors Theatre Group, but there is no sense of ‘school’ about this vibrant piece of theatre.

The text has been trimmed so deftly that it makes an 80 minute fast paced theatrical experience with no sense of loss. Director Mike Tweddle has artfully shaped the piece into a captivating experience, one born out by the rapt attention of a mainly school audience.

Lighting designer Ashley Bale, sound designer Matt Eaton and designer Imogen Howard set the whole with a sure hand, proving that less can be so much more, here simplicity reigns, minimal props, a basic costume, strikingly good use of both light and dark and a soundscape that lurks ominously throughout but never overstates its presence.

Hannah Barrie, Photo: Philip Tragen

But finally the whole is dependent on two performances and very fine performances they are. Taking on what is undoubtedly a massive slab of text and an enormous cast of characters must have been daunting for the two players but Hannah Barrie and Paul O’Mahony are simply breathtakingly good. It takes very little time for them to establish their multiple roles and carry us along. Hannah Barrie‘s Lady Macbeth is dark but not overplayed, a restrained portrayal that is so much more effective. Paul O’Mahoney’s Macbeth is tinged with that sense of privilege and entitlement, a hint of buffoonery at times, and it simply works. The addition of a few moments of humour, breaking that fourth wall and engaging with audience kept the assembled engaged and involved, a clever conceit and not one that the bard himself was unfamiliar with.

Paul O’Mahony, Photo Philip Tragen

I left the theatre knowing that I had seen something very special, a working of Shakespeare that was captivating and at the same time innovative, but above all worthwhile. The importance of engaging with young people and growing a future audience for live theatre in its many forms is vital and ATG Creative Learning are at the forefront of this, hats off to them and to Out Of Chaos.

Andrew Kay

26 March

Theatre Royal Brighton

Rating: ★★★★★

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