Macbeth, Stafford Castle, Stafford Festival Shakespeare - review with pictures
Double, double, toil and trouble - iconic tragedy Macbeth headed to Stafford Castle last night as part of the 28th annual Stafford Festival Shakespeare.
The stage was set among the picturesque medieval castle, creating a foreboding and powerful atmosphere before the production had even begun.
The sound of bagpipes filled the air and cast members began to flock onto the stage in conversation among themselves, playing games, and even marvelling at a falcon carried by one character.
From this moment on, the audience remained captivated by the remarkable show.
The tragic tale follows the story of warrior Macbeth, who murders King Duncan after three devilish witches prophesise that he will rule the land.
Alongside the murderous Lady Macbeth, he plots to secure the royal legacy, though all turns sour when ghoulish visions and suspicion from the pair's dearest friends plague them at all time.
Bil Stuart brought the tortured soul of Macbeth to life effortlessly.
From endearing the audience with his courage and kindness, to repulsing them as he divulged in his black and deep desires, he mastered both sides of Macbeth's personality flawlessly.
As he portrayed Macbeth's descent into madness, his sudden convulsions and pained screams often had me questioning Bil's own well-being.
Rosie Hilal's characterisation of the scheming Lady Macbeth was equally as powerful, as she fell from the position of a strong, albeit manipulative woman, to one derange and plagued by horrific visions.
Her on-stage chemistry with Bil was palpable, and added authenticity to their characters' tumultuous relationship.
Sian Mannifield, Mairi Hawthorn and Nicola Jo Cully as the three witches were also a real highlight of the show.
In other productions of Macbeth I have seen, the witches have often been portrayed as something from a more modern horror film; with long black cloaks, noses covered in warts and pointed shoes.
These witches however, draped in rags and with wild hair, were more akin to The Wildlings from hit TV series Game Of Thrones, which sent chills down my spine whenever they were on stage.
Their movements and expressions were as erratic and unpredictable as their clothing, making every prophecy they spoke seem even more chilling and dangerous.
They created a ghoulish and macabre atmosphere as gore-covered ghosts taunted Macbeth, and though the apparitions were central to the scene, it was the witches who had all eyes on them.
It wasn't just the flawless acting that transported the audience to the Scottish highlands, it was the expert use of the props and the stage itself that added depth to this production.
Every inch of the stage, surrounded on three sides by the crowd, was utilised at all times. Characters moved around the set as if it was a real room because they could be seen on all sides, rather than just head-on as if they were in a traditional theatre.
WATCH: Bil Stuart talks about his role in Macbeth
A flaming cauldron, realistic weapons, a bath embedded into the stage and a real-life bird of prey incited shocked gasps from the audience, who may not have expected such marvellous props in a simple outdoor venue.
The imposing presence of Stafford Castle was used to create tension within the final scenes of the play, with lights illuminating the ruins to mark the English army drawing close to Macbeth's castle.
The final tumultuous battle scene was accompanied by heart-stopping, booming drums and ominous sound effects that brought the performance to a spine-tingling close.
Packed full of powerful acting, stunning storytelling devices and set in the marvellous surroundings of Stafford Castle: If you have the chance to see this production, do so.
What's done cannot be undone, and this magnificent performance of Macbeth is one that will stick with me for years to come.
*Macbeth is staged until July 14. For tickets visit the website.