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Reviews of Macbeth & Richard III by Northampton University Actors (2nd Year) at Royal & Derngate & Holy Sepulchre Church, Northampton

Its safe to say and needs saying from the outset that I am not one of Mr Shakespeare's greatest fans and watching two three hour odd productions in two days would not always fill me with a warm glow. However over the last couple of months, the Northampton University (of all current three years) have shown talent in abundance and I was never going to let my petty opinion deprive me of seeing them again.

This year I had seen both Troilus and Cressida (by the Masque Theatre) and King Lear (via NTLive) and its safe to say that I enjoyed Macbeth and Richard III more than both of these (yes even with Mr Shakespeare, Simon Russell Beale in action). The acting was of course not better than Lear (it was Russell Beale, that would be impossible), but the productions for me were both much more enjoyable to watch.

The Shakespeare purist would no doubt cry that there was too much gimmickry with these productions, but for me this made them more modern and more acceptable. I listen to Shakespeare and so much goes over my head that I need "a production" to sell it to me in a different way.

These two productions from directors Trudy A Bell (Macbeth) and Natalie Diddams (Richard III) really did present a different way. Although they were also very different beasts as well; Macbeth, all physical theatre, movement and action. While Richard III, slightly more traditional, but wonderfully updated, with snippets of musical movement pieces, which for me were an absolute delight (Samantha Ahweyevu always ready for a click of her camera).

Macbeth was the favourite of mine. For me it edged it for some of the better performances. Sam Billy Behan really absorbed Macbeth, playing the role for me to almost perfection and showing substantial promise. Likewise was Catherine Garlick playing Malcolm (inspired casting), small in build but powerful in performance. Her performance standing tall to those six foot plus menfolk around her, and a delight. Zoe Davey (who I had seen in the Masque Theatre's Troilus), also impressed, playing Lady Macbeth with more than a hint of fragility and also taking part in the boldest physical part of the show, climbing the cast and the fall, a tremendously staged part. However these are just a select bunch of names, as generally the cast were wonderful, right down to the screeching witches (Julia-Louise Nolan, Rachel Sherbourne and Kate Fenwick) or the sinister Banquo (Matt Hirst). With the physical and visual side the greater, to my mind it was the better of the two.

However Richard III was not far behind, perhaps an easier play for me to follow and beginning with a pleasurable musical movement piece (these have a name I assume? Please enlighten me), as the weak King attended his court and photographs were taken. Then the wonderfully snarling Richard (John Shelley) entered to spoil the party. Not quite up to Behan for the title role performance stakes, but still incredibly good in the totally unsympathetic role.

Richard III did however provide the funniest part of the two days, as Oliver Mort and Ashlee Thomas Sopher played the two executioners of Clarence as two wonderful spiv like characters. Played greatly for laughs, it perhaps made the moment of murder that so much more powerful and had wonderful use of the venue, as Clarence's last breath was snuffed out via the Holy Sepulchre font. Finally to be singled out from another fine cast is Jamie Dawson-Park whose speech as King Edward was one of the highlights of the two shows, he also managed to wield a plastic tommy gun with sufficient menace.

So, Shakespeare is not my friend, maybe from being pummelled it in English Literature long ago, but as these two fine shows make clear, it is mann from heaven for actors learning their trade. Full of solid characters, weaving plots and delicious fruity, lilting dialogue, it is a dream I am sure for them to perform. Just not to sit and read, give me Of Mice And Men any day Mr Gove.

Following the delights of Animal Farm, Love & Information, Lies, Love And Lust and the Flash Festival, these two performances have concluded a wonderful few months of my first brushes with the Northampton University Actors. I look forward to the future with high anticipation.

Macbeth was performed at the Royal & Derngate (Underground) by the Northampton University between 5th June and 7th June, 2014.

Richard III was performed at the Holy Sepulchre Church by the Northampton University between 5th June and 7th June, 2014.

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