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MACBETH LEEDS PLAYHOUSE 3 MARCH 2022

A brooder Macbeth Mood is conjured up by Hayley Grindle, whose set fills the stage with earth-brown, gloomy distance and ghostly gloom. In the flattened, stony ground lies a dark puddle, ready to serve as a cauldron, a ditch for drowning, or a hand-washing bowl for an obsessive hand-washer. Sturdy pylons tower everywhere, while blunt planks form a floor from the center of which hangs a huge wooden drawbridge suspended by chains. When lifted to create a two-tiered stage for action at the top and bottom, the underside of a metal frame is revealed. Searchlights, flashes, and columns of bright white light eventually dotted with red cut through the widespread darkness while trumpets, pounding pulses, thunderous, echoing thumps, and Dr. Who create moments of suspense and suspense. Pleasing (if distracting) is the use of stylized slow-motion motion for the silent banquets and revelries that continue when soliloquies are held elsewhere. Few props are used apart from chairs, chalices and swords, and costumes add medieval shabby drabness.

With a specific aim of attracting people back to theatre, particularly young people studying the play, and a commitment to inclusive theatrical creation, both in terms of cast and audience needs, The Scottish Play, under Amy Leachs Headed south to become more A Yorkshire game. Dark-skinned, burly Banquo (Gabriel Paul) with his dreadlocked ponytail has the deepest accent of them all. The script has been trimmed, changed and added at various points, as well as some scenes, so that Donalbain is now completely gone and Macduff (Adam Bassett) has a lot more to do – like be the damn man from the battlefield for now. Audio description is built-in (e.g. the witches have a little extra narration) and since the Macduffs are a non-hearing couple, the sign language is extensive, their lines interpreted and spoken by other characters who also sign. This is an approach that works fabulously well to enhance many musicals, pantos, and dramas. Things are less smooth here, however, as the performance of Shakespeare’s musical flow and rhythm becomes interrupted and disjointed at times, resulting in a loss of panache, engagement and impact.

Certainly captivating for the teenagers is the comic relief scene with the porter making them giggle at his elaborate, crude pantomimes and use of his sword to clearly demonstrate the effects of drunken impotence. Meanwhile, the three weird sisters shouldn’t cause any nightmares: less witchy, less bewitched and ugly, less wicked and malicious than often portrayed, they are more normal people who are weird eccentrics – maybe more like those who lived in remote rural areas and were referred to as witches in their day, but were not really. Of course Shakespeare wrote Macbeth for his patron James I (who had just escaped assassination himself in the Gunpowder Plot) at a time when witch hunts were taking place across Britain and Europe and James himself was obsessed with witchcraft and the supernatural. Shakespeare even drew on James’ own book, demonologyand the utter evil of witches was taken for granted.

Charlotte Arrowsmith’s Lady Macbeth is less obviously evil. Unusually, she gains sympathy in the added opening scene as she cradles her small, dead baby, comforted by her grieving, loving husband, the bearded Macbeth (Tachia Newall). Later, she also suffers a bloody miscarriage. Far from being a strong-willed, ruthless, toxic Harridan, she uses a warm, smiling, somewhat informal, talkative approach to convince her husband to assassinate King Duncan before she loses her mind with guilt. That’s not entirely convincing. Macbeth’s psychological journey, meanwhile, takes him from a warm, loving spouse to a cool, distracted, distant spouse, before embracing destruction as a full-blown, angry, out-of-control bully.

In this production, which is packed with action, noise and visual effects, there are sometimes perhaps a bit too many distractions, while the delivery of lines, for various reasons, sometimes impedes the flow of speech and thought as the story unfolds, convincingly, although always is in its own right.

Eileen Caiger Gray
Macbeth runs until March 19th



MACBETH LEEDS PLAYHOUSE 3 MARCH 2022

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