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OTG's summer production in 2011 was Macbeth in the gardens of Trinity College. Reviews appeared in Oxford Times, Daily Information, What'sOnStage and Oxford Prospect.
picture from the performance

Which witch let the cat's cradle game get out of hand...?

A gallery of pictures from the production is available to view.
Download the programme (PDF, 2MB).

OXFORD TIMES - Christopher Gray

After the surprise of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new witch-free production of Macbeth at Stratford, we have from Oxford Theatre Guild, by contrast, a version of the Scottish Play in which the Weird Sisters are supplied in triple the usual quantity.

I write deliberately of a ‘version’ to suggest a deviation from the original, which is what is here supplied in various ways under co-directors James Reilly and Jessica Welch.

One of the strangest changes is to get Macbeth himself — played with increasing confidence on Tuesday’s opening night by Peter Malin — to utter the witches’ warnings he receives in his final meeting with them. This, I felt, seemed likely to cause confusion to the many young members of the audience seated around me in a leafy (and chilly) corner of Trinity College Gardens. But the rapt attention of the full-house crowd appeared to indicate they were taking it all in — well, perhaps not quite all, since competition from traffic and nearby roisterers drowned out some of the dialogue.

The affecting exchange between Lady Macduff (Cate Field) and her son (Daniel Taylor) at the castle of Macduff (Mike Taylor) was almost completely lost. It is another odd conceit of the production that Macbeth is present for the slaughter here.

Some of the characters are plucked from the swollen ranks of the hooded hags — including the bleeding sergeant, the drunken porter (whose familiar speech is passed around the nine-strong group) and the third murderer. The last turns out not to be a murderer at all, for Joe O’Connor, who plays him, is given Banquo’s line instructing his son to “Fly, good Fleance, fly”.

Fleance himself is a bit of a surprise — not the usual child or adolescent making a brief appearance but a beefed-up character, presented in the well-muscled form of William Fournier, who struts his stuff bare-chested (brrrr!) as a fully-fledged member of the forces marshalled against Macbeth.

Simple staging and the very minimum of props focus attention firmly on the performances, none of which is less than competent. Colin Burnie’s Banquo and Bob Mann’s Duncan are much more than this.

One hopes that rather more in the way of malice can be added to Sam Knipe’s portrait of Lady Macbeth. At present, she reveals a rather too cheery persona. Dismissing the the guests at the end of the disastrous banquet — and here I feel, incidentally, that the non-appearance of Banquo’s ghost is a confusing mistake — she is like a kindly pub landlady clearing the place at closing time.

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DAILY INFORMATION - Lucy Ayrton

Macbeth, presented by the Oxford Theatre Guild in Trinity College Gardens, was a solid performance of a Shakespeare classic.

The presentation was very traditional - “proper Shakespeare”, with swords and crowns and robes - and was mainly executed well. Performances were good throughout, especially from Peter Malin, who was clear and engaging as Macbeth. Sam Knipe as Lady Macbeth was also excellent. Both actors clearly had great affection for the text, the intonation of lines was thoughtful and confident. I also loved the scene in which the Macduff family are murdered - the gentle performances from Cate Field and Daniel Taylor offered a lovely counterpoint to the shoutier action and were genuinely moving. The end of the scene, though, like much of the play, was let down by slightly cheesy staging.

The witches were a prime example of this. They were presented as influencing the action throughout the play - so there were a crowd of witches, not just three, and they would stand in for servants in the court, and guests at the feast. I like the idea, but I felt it was slightly hesitantly executed. It would have more clearly shown them as a constant threat if at least one of them was always on stage, or perhaps in a tree - especially in the earlier part of the play, having someone in a witch cape, not doing anything witchy, in one in five scenes, is confusing.

Throughout, the outdoor setting felt underused. I have nothing at all against outdoor or site specific theatre, but Oxford has a bizarre culture of summer Shakespeare shows being outside by default. Aside from being a selling point though, I was struggling to see what the setting really added to this production. Even the most obvious moment, when Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, was staged as though we were in a normal theatre - so why be in an actual wood?

Overall I enjoyed the show, and felt it was a competent, nicely done bit Shakespeare. However, the traditional style, while absolutely appropriate in the performances, led to a slightly staid staging. The cast were great, and working very hard, but it was just a decent show. With a bit more exploration of the possibilities of staging and setting I felt like it could have been really amazing.

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WHAT'SONSTAGE - Josh Tomalin

Oxford Theatre Guild’s latest is a functional and occasionally interesting take on the Scottish Play set in a leafy and cosy nook just off the lawns of Trinity College. My companion told me that on reflection, she thought that this would make for a perfect first date and whilst I fought this idea for a bit, I have to agree. It shouldn’t really be the case that a psychological gore-fiesta like Macbeth ends up as a conversation starter for erstwhile lovers, but what this production lacks in depth it makes up for in verve from the principal cast.

All of the speaking characters displayed a thorough relationship with the text as well as a faithful adherence to the peculiar and beguiling language contained within.

Whilst easy on the ear, the depth of characterisation on offer was pretty thin and unfortunately for a fairly short tragedy, the pace did tend to sag especially towards the end of the first act. The directorial team did seem to want to play to the strengths of the resources available to them and decided to carry the production via the energy of the players and for the most part succeeded. Although it was at times superficial, OTG have come up with a very enjoyable version of this classic shocker.

All this is not to say that the production is without moments of charm. The increasing integration of the witches as a chorus of minor characters worked neatly as symbolism of Macbeth’s deteriorating mental condition. Similarly the ending’s lovely tableau, with its implied circularity, was the one moment of the play that came closest to being genuinely unsettling.

Go and see it, but expect a distracting evening’s entertainment rather than a true horror show.

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OXFORD PROSPECT - Nicholas Newman

Last night’s, Oxford’s Theatre Guild’s performance of Macbeth was full of percussive bashing of swords and Shakespeare’s magical language that made this two and a half hour performance simply come alive!

Macbeth, who was played with passion by Peter Malin, is the man who would be King of Scotland, who struggles with ambition, doubt and his conscience as he takes the treacherous path to kill King Duncan and many of his family and supporters. Oddly enough, the machinations depicted in the play reminded me of recent political coups in distant lands.

Setting the play in Trinity college gardens was simply magical; it was much appreciated by the audience, the care Oxford Theatre Guild, h

ad taken in providing blankets and hot drinks to keep out the summer evening chill. The direction by James Reilly and Jessica Welch was exceptional. However, the acting was superb and the work of the backstage team was simply excellent. I especially appreciated the makeup design by Becky Brown, and the dripping blood by Cherry Mosteshar, it looked very realistic! It is certainly something to see!

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