Review: Macbeth, Bristol Old Vic Weston Studio

Blood will have blood and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School certainly took the Scottish warlord’s dagger and thrust it into the heart of the play. For Ng Choon Ping’s Macbeth is a rip-roaring fast paced production of Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy directed at pace and with huge energy.

For students of the bard this is a must-see production. Excellent diction, lines delivered with feeling and clarity, superb choreography and some gripping battle scenes. Set on a thrust stage with a central circular focal point for the action the story of Macbeth’s rise and fall from power is fittingly dressed in the late 16th century costumes of Caledonia. Apart from an Elizabethan-esque Queen Duncan (Ruby Ward) rather than King Duncan Ng Choon Ping kept the drama pretty much to the original script. All the famous lines and scenes were in there.

Joe Usher as the protagonist was suitably desperate as the drama unfolded and he enjoyed sexual chemistry with Camilla Aiko as Lady Macbeth who was more smart dinner party rather than grim gothic accessory to murder. Aiko’s style was a wife who saw Macbeth’s career prospects enhanced if only he could murder his boss rather than the evil plotting spouse pushing him towards regicide.

Banquo (an outstanding Bill Caple) had all the military techniques to defeat several Norwegian armies as did another physically strong performance from Joshua Hurley as Mabeth’s nemesis Macduff. Max Guest as Malcolm was palpably in shock on the news of his mother’s death and Alexander Uzoka as Rosse was also excellent support in the court of Macbeth with fine performances from Eve Pereira as Lennox, Phoebe Cook as Siward and Tom Atkinson as Donalbain.

Joe Edgar enjoyed himself as the porter come phallic wielding jester providing the laughs for the groundlings as he fell onto the stage in a bundle of bells and harlequin colours. And there was more humour with Carlie Diamond as Macduff’s ill fated son and Phoebe Cook as Lady Macduff as they engaged in enjoyable banter before their sudden and shocking assassinations.

And tribute too – to the sound, thumping drum and pipe music, evocative lighting (Mary Bennett), costume team, milliners and stage constructors for helping to make this a particularly memorable production designed by Choy-Ping Clark Ng.

There were some stand out and highly creative sequences such as the opening scene with the three witches: Evie Hargreaves, Josephine-Fransilja Brookman and Carlie Diamond – all quite manic and delightfully dishevelled in their cloaks, gowns and a puff of dry ice as they disappeared into thin air with magical smoke and mirrors stage craft from the large production team. The use of of the circular central focal point transformed into a pool of blood and the traditional use of trapdoors to allow for sudden appearances and disappearances all added to the drama. There was a beautifully stylised sword dance to symbolise the power structure of Duncan’s court, the hauntingly stunning and unexpected appearance of Banquo’s ghost during the feast and the realistically violent sword fights and murders with litres of blood.

Yes, blood will have blood, and in this five star production, you get the full Scottish Macbeth unseamed from the nave to the chops.

Harry Mottram

The play runs to November 20, 2021.

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Harry Mottram is the news editor of South Bristol Voice monthly magazine and a freelance journalist. Visit