Last Updated on July 12, 2021 by Fiona Maclean
All The Chamberlain’s Men
The Lord Chamberlain’s Men were founded in 2004 as an all-male theatre company presenting authentic productions of Shakespeare’s plays performed in wonderful settings across the country. The name is taken from the company that Shakespeare wrote most of his plays for, led by actor-manager Richard Burbage. The present iteration of the company is managed by Peter Stickney who took over the company as Artistic Director and Chief Executive in 2016.
I went to see them perform on a perfect summer’s evening in the bucolic neo-Palladian grandeur of the gardens surrounding Chiswick House in West London. The audience, refugees-all from the footballing fervour that has gripped the nation during the Euros, brought their own picnics, outdoor blankets and chairs. They settled down to watch ‘The Scottish Play’ as the sun set against the backdrop of the building and the rusted iron set which had the feel of a Richard Serra sculpture – it was an evocative setting for the upcoming dark deeds.
Shakespeare’s most political of plays is a psychological study of how untrammelled political ambition affects the individual and of how power corrupts our moral core. These are themes that clearly still resonate today. Published in 1623, Shakespeare’s story of Macbeth, King of Scotland, is sourced from Holinshed’s Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but the bard of Avon uses this material as an inspiration for his own dramatic invention.
The play addresses contemporary political sensibilities head-on with the 3 Witches reframed as ‘weird sisters’. They delivered the fateful prophecy to Macbeth about his upcoming ascension to the throne of Scotland in a sea of smoke and with suitably spooky aplomb. Swathed in acres of dark brown cloth and decked out by set and costume designer Morgan Brind, their outfits looked as if they had come straight out of Vivian Westwood’s iconic 80s boutique ‘World of Mud! With audibility being a key issue at outdoor performances the whole cast projected well, despite the noise of a few passing jets coming into Heathrow.
Ronnie Yorke gave a powerful and impassioned performance as Macbeth marking his descent from driven ambition into a psychotic jumble of rage with a nuanced sense of precision.
Laurie Scott’s King Duncan had an authentic sense of Celtic nobility about it.
Gender-swapping is all the rage in theatre nowadays so it was fascinating to see the part of Lady Macbeth played by a man – Rhys Warrington – whose line ‘Unsex me here’ give her the agency to act and control in a way most heroines of this period could not imagine. Warrington’s androgyny gives an insinuating Wallis Simpsonesque quality that added value to the casting.
It was a real pleasure to watch this performance in such a setting. Outdoor theatre is one of the highlights of summertime so have a look at the Lord Chamberlain’s Men website and see if there are any dates near you. There are productions right the way across the country throughout the summer until the start of September 2021 and there are further dates in and around London at Kenwood House, Morden Hall Park, Royal Ascot and Knebworth.
For further dates on this national tour please visit www.tlcm.co.uk