For young BME actors, the idea of playing the classical leads from Sophocles, Moliere or Shakespeare seem no more than a dream: perhaps something they were able to do at a high school drama lesson but it is unthinkable after venturing out onto the predominantly white scene of Cambridge theatre. That is until something like the all-BME revival of Macbeth came along. Directed by Saskia Ross, this production aims to discover the wide range of talent in Cambridge that often goes overlooked in a dauntingly white university where there is an unfortunate lack of representation that often means BME actors feel discouraged from auditioning.
Yet this performance just goes to show that BME actors need to be given more opportunities to showcase their talent as Macbeth brought us a strong ensemble cast, headed by powerful performances from Malcolm Ebose as the iconic titular antagonist and Diamond Abdulrahim as the formidable Lady Macbeth. Ebose brought a unique swagger to the character; from the preset where he sat silently staring down the audience as they entered, right up until his final scene where he casually stuck his middle finger up to Macduff moments before his death. Abdulrahim’s fierce and commanding, yet subtle performance captivated the audience despite relatively little stage time. The rest of the cast followed suit, with scene-stealing performances from Xelia Mendes-Jones and Seun Adekoya as Macduff and Malcolm respectively, whose poignant scene in Act IV gave the momentum that drove through to the final act of the play. A particular favourite was the eerie yet sultry portrayals of the witches from Hannah Short, Elise Liu and Amiya Nagpal; not just for the Beyonce ‘Formation’ inspired costumes, but for the innovative take on the well-known, archetypal characters and their captivating use of masks.
However, the commendable performances from the cast were at times overshadowed by the delayed transitions and technical aspects. The play opens with a smooth and dramatic electronic beat that sets the tone for the opening of the play; unfortunately, this exciting use of modern music in a Shakespeare play was not exploited enough throughout. The concept of merging the classical with a contemporary, gritty urban setting was a promising one but again was not always used to its full potential. It would have been nice to see this concept explored further to heighten this sense of a radical, politically charged piece of theatre. Using such a beautiful, traditional church was also interesting for the same reason but unfortunately the cast failed to consistently adapt to the difficult traverse layout; blocking was sometimes untidy and lines lost.
Nonetheless, a few slow transitions or missed lighting cues do not at all take away from what this incredible piece of theatre stands for. Macbeth was intended as a way to show Cambridge theatre-makers and -goers that there is a serious lack of representation and unfortunate overlooking of talent in the ‘Camdram’ scene: this boundary-breaking production, following similar pieces such as Teahouse and exile from last term, forces us all to acknowledge the diversity problem here and hopefully encourage us to do something about it. As powerful and engaging a production it was, the aim is that eventually we will no longer have to put on shows explicitly for a BME cast but that people will realise that we are just as deserving and just as talented to be included in the rest of Cambridge theatre.