Review in the Independent on Sunday

Review by Anna Picard in The Independent on Sunday

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There is no entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for William Webster the younger, founder of the Blackheath Halls, Blackheath Conservatoire and now defunct Blackheath College of Art.

There is no entry for his father, the engineer who was apprenticed as a boy to a Lincolnshire builder and went on to build the Dissenters' Chapel in Hither Green Cemetery, the pumping house in Erith, and the Albert and Chelsea Embankments. The history of Victorian London is full of men like the two Williams; grafters and givers, believers in betterment through sanitation and art. Built for local people, on local money, Blackheath Halls continues its mission, with one particular project at its core: the annual community opera.

Webster and Webster might be shocked by the gore in Christopher Rolls's production of Verdi's Macbeth, but they would admire the resilience and thrift of the Blackheath community. In the foyer, storyboards from four primary schools trace the antihero's bloody career. Inside the hall, pupils from the same schools freeze in a trance at the scalding incantations of the witches, their piping voices lending a crisp edge to Jeremy Sams's translation. From pipsqueak to pensioner, chorus and orchestra are conducted without compromise by Nicholas Jenkins. The a capella ensembles are electric with energy, the tuttis a skirling roar.

Alongside the great set pieces of brindisi and bloodbath, Verdi's Macbeth is a portrait of a marriage. Oliver Townsend's spare, simple designs -a long path of blue carpet, a circular dais surrounded by sharpened staffs, a scarlet camouflage dropcloth - and Mark Howland's careful lighting ensure that our attention is kept on Macbeth (Quentin Hayes) and his scolding, smooching wife (Miriam Murphy). The dynamic is fascinating. Hayes's Macbeth is neat and meticulous; a disciplined soldier whose alienation is revealed in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it training of his machine-gun on Banquo's back in the first scene. A formidable woman with a formidable voice, Murphy conjures shades of mood and madness with a graceful tilt of a finger or the balletic turn of a wrist. From Charne Rochford's guileless Macduff to student Susanna Buckle's gentle Lady in Waiting, Matthew Rose's towering, glowering Banquo, the grimiest blurt of amateur trombones and the sweet voices of the children, Blackheath should be proud.

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