Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
Macbeth is a top tier Shakespearean classic. Countless phrases from the script have worked their way into everyday English usage, and images such as the three witches around their cauldron or the sleeping Lady Macbeth rubbing blood from her hands are deeply ingrained in modern British culture. In short, it is not a safe bet for the Royal Exchange to be opening their winter 2019 season with.
Thankfully, this production receives stunning direction from Christopher Haydon and, crucially, Lucy Ellinson is magnificent as Macbeth. The gender-blind casting is an inspired choice. In an era when this is becoming increasingly popular, Ellinson as Macbeth and Alexandra Mathie as Duncan lend a newfound emotional depth to some of the most poignant scenes.
There are too many stellar performances to mention by name here, but Ony Uhiara as Lady Macbeth is a particular highlight. I only wish that Shakespeare had given her more stage time so we had been able to witness more of the devious manipulation, followed by her slow descent into madness.
Rachel Denning provides an excellent delivery of the Porter’s speech, which is here rewritten by Chris Thorpe. This stands out for its contemporary references but provides welcome comic relief in exactly the way it was originally intended to.
The production is sometimes slightly on the nose with the modern war setting. It hammers this point home at the opening of the first act which makes for an overly abrasive start to the production, but the Witches soon remedy this and set the production on the right track once the dialogue starts.
The design is slick and cohesive, with the sound design by Elena Peña providing an especially intense accompaniment to the events of the play. The more notable soliloquies are subject to echo and electronic manipulation, and at its finest moments, this technique pushes the language into exciting new territory as if you are hearing it again for the first time.
The performances alone are worth the ticket price, but Haydon and his team have created a sinister world for these characters which is a creepy joy to experience.
Macbeth runs at the Royal Exchange until 19 October 2019.
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