Review: Child stars and showbiz neglect in We Need To Talk About Bobby (Off EastEnders), King's Head Theatre
Agreeing with Exeunt magazine's (irrational) theatre dislikes and adding one of my own

Church halls, tights and holding hands with actors, it's Macbeth, Factory Theatre-style

When an actor holds your hand or leads you into the performance space it is the encounter that is foremost in your mind and what is going on around you rather than the nuances of character, play and plot.

REVIEW: It's a cold, wet, Easter Friday and I'm in a church hall in Pimlico, sat in a circle on a plastic chair.

The strip lights are bright, the atmosphere friendly, the scouting posters on the walls betray the halls usual users - this isn't your standard theatre experience.

Factory Theatre macbeth signIt feels a little like a support group, a support group for theatre addicts - later an actor will stand next to me and hold my hand - but that's during the play, beforehand they mingle and chat. 

They aren't yet in character like at the Donmar's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui last year. Neither are they in costume.

I'm asked how I heard about the performance and whether I'd seen anything by Factory Theatre before - the company behind this production of Macbeth.

The atmosphere is relaxed, warm, full of expectation but with an underlying layer of nerves from the actors and perhaps the audience too - some are due to take part.

Audience participation is voluntary. Kind of. You can volunteer to 'play' a witch and are allocated a line or two together with the appropriate cue.

You can also join in with certain choruses of the witches. Or you can observe unless you find yourself being led gently by the hand to stand with the actors and other members of the audience during particular scenes.

But this is all to come. First us theatre addicts get an intro by our support group leader, RSC thesp and Factory artistic director Alex Hassell.

This, we are told, is the first performance of what will hopefully be an evolving production with the cast changing as often as the venues. Casting is colour, gender, age and disability blind.

The actors have a prompt, things might not go smoothly, we can pop out to the loo - the only real nod to convention is that phones should be switched off.

In a similar vein to recent productions where the lead actor is determined on the night (coin toss for Mary Stuart and burning matches for the RSC's Doctor Faustus) a game of rock, paper, scissors decides who will play Macbeth.

The two actors up for the part choose a member of the audience to play for them. We get a female Macbeth - what I was hoping for.

And then the play begins and we are in theatre-land with the actors wearing tights on their heads and silently moving around, shaping the performance space in the middle of the circle by either sitting, crouching, laying or standing.

When a particular character speaks the tights come off only to be replaced when their scene is complete so that they 'melt' back into part of the ensemble.

'Off-stage' doesn't exist other than standing behind the circle of chairs, mostly they 'drift' in and out of the space through arranged gaps in the seats.

The effect of this ensemble will perhaps be different for everyone. For me they felt like a manifestation of dark thoughts, gathering around Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as they formulate their increasingly murderous plans.

At other times they were like a swarm/pack, forming shapes - conscience or illusions of growing disturbed minds.

They also provide an occasional soundtrack - cries, groans, coughs, knocking. Together with the audience, they join in with cries of  'hail' and 'hail Macbeth' which rise perfectly on cue.

In proper stage lighting, with dark corners and edges, perhaps the cast dressed all in black, I can imagine it being really spooky and atmospheric.

Under bright strip lights, it is a different experience, it is atmospheric but in a different way.

The setting: the hall, the chairs, the circle, the shiny faces of audience and actors a reminder of a different reality. It becomes less about the play and more about a particular experience.

When an actor holds your hand or leads you into the performance space it is the encounter that is foremost in your mind and what is going on around you rather than the nuances of character, play and plot.

'And that's Macbeth' said Alex Hassell to announce the end followed by a long and rapturous applause by audience and actors alike.

It's a unique experience and one I enjoyed very much, it certainly didn't cure my theatre addiction.

For details of new venues and performances head over to Factory's website. It was about 2 hours long.