Review: Macbeth

Richard Lutz takes his pew and steels himself for a night of blood, evil…and witchcraft.

pic by Richard Hubert-Smith

pic by Richard Hubert-Smith

The year is 1606 and Shakespeare completes Macbeth. The play, one of his most powerful, is inextricably linked with what is happening around him.

The new monarch, James the First, is Scottish and trying to link his native country with England.

The king has to contend with the outcome of the Gunpowder Plot and the troubled creation of a new dynasty after the Tudors.

He has a lot on his mind. And there is something else the writer is aware of: James is obsessed with witchcraft.


The playwright throws all this in the pot. His new play is about what exists and bubbles around him as he writes the script that he had safely located 600 years before his own time. And he ensures that witchcraft is present and accounted for.

In this version of the play at the Birmingham Rep the spectral witchiness of the weird sisters is never far from view. They mingle and dance through the other cast members, always observing, always reacting to the growing bloodlust that they observe. They wail, they twitch, they moan and they sing. They even serve food at the knees-up where Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost. They are from another world. But always present.

It makes for a different spin on the play which is usually produced to portray the power of evil, the struggles of a dynasty or even the love of two people warped by violence.

Here the witchy girls, played by actresses Jessie Oshodi, Clemmie Sveaas and Ana Beatriz Meireles, are, in a way, the main characters. They are whirling spinning ghosts who inhabit the stage and invade the plot. With all that movement, no wonder the trio of actresses are all trained dancers.

The fevered action is aided by other cast members who have also earned their chops in modern dance and it creates an eerie nonstop brio, something far from the macho world of armour and weaponry. But, at times, good as it is with hard grinding techno music, it takes away from the sheer power of the play’s words.

Yes, actor John Heffernan does have the gravitas to deliver the big Macbeth speeches. But his Lady Macbeth, played by Anna Maxwell Martin, at times seems buried by what whizzes around her. It was simply too difficult to grab hold of some of her most urgent lines as she eggs on her husband to grab power and abuse it.

So, a visceral physical production that sometimes does not sit quietly with the simple urgency and force of the script. As one of Shakespeare’s shortest play, it is rightfully presented without an intermission. And it is all set in a Kafkesque funnels-like set that creates a tightening claustrophobic feel to the proceedings

And this does leave you with a breathless driving play that is powerful, sometimes manically overworked, but armed with an otherworldliness that casts a large supernatural shadow over the bloody travails of mere bloodstained mortals.

Until 30th January. Tickets 0121 236 4455.

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