Theatre Review – Macbeth

John Heffernan (Macbeth) and Anna Maxwell Martin (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

by William Shakespeare
A Birmingham Rep, Young Vic and HOME co-production
Birmingham Repertory Theatre
Directed by Carrie Cracknell & Lucy Guerin


Reviewer: Sophia Amy Evans

When the prophecy of three witches proclaims that Macbeth is destined to become the King of Scotland, he and Lady Macbeth embark upon a treacherous journey of murder, paranoia, betrayal and suicide. Following the acclaimed collaboration of Medea which played at The National Theatre, Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin have created a new version of Shakespeare’s supernatural tragedy, Macbeth.

The set is cleverly designed, giving a narrowing perspective to a bunker corridor with a multitude of doors, which are used during each transition. A series of wacky dance moves highlight the scene changes, some of which are effective and others that drag down the pace of the production, seeming to be little more than a tool to allow characters time to change off-stage. The aspect of multi-rolling is difficult to take in, there is little diversity between different characters and some of the time it is not clear who each character was, even to someone who has knowledge of the story.

The actors have limited resources to work with set and props wise: extremely limiting for them, but they deal with this well. The actors are forced to be open and fully in touch with their emotions. Macbeth, is played excellently by John Heffernan (BBC’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, RSC’s Oppenheimer and Edward II at the National Theatre). There is something specifically about Anna Maxwell Martin’s (Almeida’s Measure For Measure, Cabaret in the West End and BAFTA-winning performances in Bleak House and Poppy Shakespeare) Lady Macbeth which really draws the audience in, she has a very clear understanding of the characters inner emotions and brings a breath of fresh air to the character. Certain other characters lacked energy, passion and weren’t at all engaging.

It is very hard to keep focus during this two hour show and work out the goings on of the storytelling devices applied – an interval would have desirable. The setting of the play, in a modern context, is intriguing, but in parts the modernisation simply doesn’t work. The setting is indiscriminate and never fully established: certainly a location that doesn’t seem anything like Scotland. The show stays true to the original Shakespeare text, which jars against the abstract style the directors Cracknell and Guerin bring to the piece – this simply doesn’t work.

Runs until 30th January at Birmingham Repertory Theatre.