Rock and soul brings Shakespeare to life

The tragedy of Macbeth is played out to the rock and pop sounds of Johnny Cash, The xx and The Rolling Stones, whilst the whimsical comedy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is suffused with the soulful sounds of Billie Holiday’s Blue Moon and Nina Simone’s I Put A Spell On You.

This inspired and eclectic take on two of Shakespeare’s most popular plays will be brought to the Theatre Royal by The Watermill Theatre from October 15 to 19 with two highly-acclaimed productions of the Bard’s classics.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by The Watermill Theatre. Photo by Scott Rylander.

Both feature the Newbury-based theatre’s celebrated and multi-talented resident Shakespeare company, The Watermill Ensemble, with its trademark actor-muso style of theatre and reputation for innovative and lively interpretations. 

Directed by The Watermill’s artistic director Paul Hart, and heading out on a six-week nationwide tour, Macbeth premiered earlier this year on The Watermill’s home stage, while A Midsummer Night’s Dream ran there last year, both to critical acclaim. Norwich audiences have previously enjoyed the ensemble’s work during its inaugural UK tour when it brought Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night to the city in June 2017

Offue Okegbe, Max Runham, Billy Postlethwaite, Lillie Flynn in Macbeth.
Photo by Pamela Raith.

Billy Postlethwaite, son of the late renowned screen and stage actor Pete Postlethwaite, will revive his performance in the title role of Macbeth. He also plays Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. His credits include Chernobyl (HBO/Sky) and Game Of Thrones (HBO), as well as Journey’s End for The Watermill and The Madness of King George (Nottingham Playhouse).

He is joined by Emma McDonald as Lady Macbeth and Titania/Hippolyta, Peter

Mooney as Donalbain and Quince, Offue Okegbe as Lennox and Theseus, Mike Slader as Macduff and Demetrius, Molly Chesworth as Malcolm and Puck, Robyn Sinclair as Banquo and Helena, Emma Barclay as Lady Macduff and Bottom, Jamie Satterthwaite as Duncan and Oberon and Lucy Keirl as Fleance / Porter and Hermia.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was described by The Stage as “fizzing with charm and humour” and What’s On Stage hailed it as “an evening of magical delight”. Its tale plays out to the hedonistic soulful sounds of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday as an intoxicating backdrop to the story of four lovers who throw off the decorum of the royal courts, for on one fateful magic-filled night in the enchanted Athenian woods.

Macbeth was described by The Guardian as “dazzling” and “a show that burns with purpose, passion and energy to spare” as the blood-soaked action is set against the electrifying soundtrack of Jonny Cash, The xx and The Rolling Stones performed live.

Formed in 2017, The Watermill Ensemble is a company of multi-talented performers, including accomplished actor-musicians, with a 50:50 gender split. Its aim is to combine Shakespeare’s texts and live music to create new versions of the plays.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by The Watermill Theatre. Photo by Scott Rylander.

Director Paul Hart said: “The aim is to create new Shakespeare productions that excite and engage audiences of all ages and walks of life. To be taking this work from The Watermill to these major theatres across the country is incredibly exciting. It’s a great opportunity for us to share our unique style of work that combines Shakespeare’s astonishing language with physical theatre and live music to create bold new versions of these great plays. It allows us to keep on breathing new life into Shakespeare’s words.”