Review: Abi Titmuss on stage across Suffolk

THERE is so much else to discuss about this brave production, but the stunt-casting of former topless model and tabloid favourite Abi Titmuss is what we were all wondering about.

Mark Crossley

Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Sudbury Upper School, Seagull Theatre on tour in Lowestoft and Halesworth until December 4.

THERE is so much else to discuss about this brave production, but the stunt-casting of former topless model and tabloid favourite Abi Titmuss is what we were all wondering about.

There was her face looming large, with a smear of blood-red lipstick, from the posters. There she was on the tickets and the programmes, a line from the play 'Look to the lady', an invitation to watch this Macbeth mainly for the sight of Abi in her first classic role.

From the pre-publicity to her coy, grating little wave and smile to the audience as the cast trooped off after the curtain call, this was so much about the lads' mag fantasy girl.

So, can Abi act?

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The answer is yes. Whether on the strength of this we will see her on the big stage in great Shakespearian roles is debatable - more likely an extended run at Holby General beckons, or turning up in Albert Square as Peggy Mitchell's long lost, glamorous, possibly murderous, certainly manipulative niece.

It was a shame her presence in this production had not sold more than 50 or so tickets. Perhaps, the regular Bard buffs were put off by her presence and Abi fans were not intrigued enough to try Shakespeare on a Friday night.

Certainly this was not a production for your doublet and hose brigade: the first time we saw the luminous blonde was in the Macbeths' wedding video, on a big screen at the back of the stage, followed by footage of the couple, now in black, burying their dead infant.

Her opening scene sees her reading a letter from Macbeth, who details the conversation he has had with the witches. This is when Lady Macbeth needs to establish herself as having a cold ambitious streak. Abi veered between a cheery wife reading a postcard home to howling at the spirits to 'unsex' me, without establishing a believable motive and character ahead of what followed. The key scene where she must goad Macbeth into his terrible crime was far stronger and from there she was assured, until cutting, finally, a heart-wrenchingly pathetic figure. Realising she has murdered her marriage, her peace of mind and sleep itself, she sprawls on the banqueting table, after her husband has raged at the spectre of the ghost. Banquo's ghost, played by the excellent Marcus Houden, has made a truly horrifying spectacle and at one point caused the whole audience to jump six inches from their seats.

This Macbeth is set in a world of the Scottish mafia, sleazy nightclubs and lock-ups. Battles are pre-filmed and shown on the big screen, the apparitions conjured up by three tremendous weird sisters are animated and the whole is played out to the sounds of the Velvet Underground and pumping house music.

It's a bold vision by director and lead actor John Hales, where the king's son plays on his laptop and the knell that summons Duncan to heaven or to hell is a text message from Lady Macbeth. Good for Hales: Shakespeare's plays are not museum pieces to be performed only by men in tights.

For all the fuss about Abi, it's Hales who really sets this production alight. He's a big burly Macbeth, eminently watchable, totally believable and at turns terrifying, tyrannical and torn apart.

Some ideas fail. The eco-protesters trying to save Birnam Wood are clunky and Macbeth's dagger scene lacks supernatural tension. Regicide, too, does not seem unnatural enough when the king is so much Reggie Kray.

Mark Crossley

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