A damp, dark and windy All Hallows eve, the night when witches walk and spirits speak to the living... What better night to watch a production of Shakespeare's spookiest (and most blood-soaked) play, Macbeth? By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes...
Or perhaps something nice - Quiet Nice Theatre, in fact, who are staging their stripped down, five-man production in the snug amphitheatre behind Reading Central Library, until November 10. It's a fantastic choice of location for a play packed with dark magic, murder, blood and madness, with the tiered seating allowing the players (including the eerie Witches) to materialise on the balcony above us, initially as disembodied voices, and for Macbeth, MacDuff and the rest to move through the audience, crouch beside us, and envelop us in the action.
Using minimal props - a dagger, lengths of pipe, lashing of convincingly dripping fake blood - the actors create a spooky atmosphere where the tensions rise in tandem with the wind whipping through the space, bringing with it flurries of autumn leaves. The brook behind the library babbles menacingly, and portable white lights cast ghostly, looming shadows on the building behind. Macbeth (Will Guppy), is dressed in a studded suit, moving from laddish confidence to distraught confusion and pitiable madness as he grasps for power, while Lady Macbeth (Marina Waters) is ambitious, striving and genuinely unsettling from the off, the lights catching her contorted face as she shares her lust for power.
The only part that falls flat is the small audience interaction segment, which falls foul of our famed British reticence, but the production as a whole is as dark, brooding, shadowy and unsettling as you'd expect... and about as far from nice as is possible. Even those who aren't Shakespeare fans will find something in this; this is one of the Bard's most action-packed and condensed plays, and the ending comes so swiftly - even to those familiar with the text - as almost a shock.
As director Thom told us, there's a whole lot of interesting theatre happening around Reading this year. Judging by this, Quite Nice Theatre's production of Macbeth is up there with the best.