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Theatre Review: Macbeth ****

Michael Cox reviews a 'well-produced' production with strong performances.

There is much to commend this new touring production of Macbeth: the performances are committed, the design is interesting and the direction is vibrant with inventive flourishes. It is also presented in a way that makes the language assessible—it isn’t ‘dumbed down’ but manages to be clear.

And yet, the production also seems to be missing a key ingredient that would have heightened it into an unforgettable experience.

The major pull of this production will certainly be its star casting, and it isn’t a surprise to learn that Ralph Fiennes makes for an effective stage presence. His performance has an impressive confidence, but more interesting is his choice to root Macbeth in a form of calmness in the first half—this is a Macbeth who doesn’t start big but certainly ends there, almost operatic during the final battle scenes. Even more powerful is Indira Varma’s Lady Macbeth, who equals Fiennes with a measured performance that runs from youthful enthusiasm to hysterics. Together, Fiennes and Varma make a fascinating couple that complement each other in their ambitions and journey into political scheming and madness.

The company as a whole give strong performances. Standouts include Steffan Rhodri’s measured approach to Banquo and Keith Fleming (himself a terrific Macbeth a few years back in a Perth/Tron Theatre production) as both a politically assured King Duncan and a commanding Siward. Lucy Mangan, Danielle Fiamanya and Lola Shalam are convincing as the famed ‘weird sisters’, watching the chaos they predict befall the Macbeths.

Director Simon Godwin has staged an effective production, keeping the performance well-paced and constantly engaging. The aesthetic to the production is interesting—using images from modern warfare that are sadly too familiar—and the dramaturgical action is consistently clear.

And yet, for all of these positives, the production still feels as if it’s missing a frantic heartbeat or a compulsion into darkness. For a play filled with death and mayhem, it feels rather bloodless at times—even its use of stage blood feels rather safe. There’s nothing wrong with the production, but neither is there anything new or enthralling.

Nevertheless, this is still well-produced. It might not be a Macbeth for the ages, but it’s enough to satisfy Shakespeare aficionados and novices alike.

Macbeth performs at the Royal Highland Centre until January 27, 2024. It will then tour to London and Washington DC. For further details, go to the production’s website.

Tags: theatre

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