DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Macbeth – Leeds Playhouse

Reviewer: Jay Nuttall

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Amy Leach

Bloody, bold and resolute – Amy Leach’s production of Macbeth at Leeds Playhouse is all about dropping the drawbridge. Staged on the vast expanse of The Quarry theatre’s stage, fog constantly swirls like a desolate moorland as Shakespeare’s Scottish drama of murder, power and the supernatural is hammered out.

The main drive of Amy Leach’s tenure as Associate Director of Leeds Playhouse has focussed, rightly, on the inclusivity and accessibility of theatre for all. Her productions have been noted for integrating d/Deaf disabled actors, BSL and audio description into the theatre experience – as opposed to them being an ‘add on’, bolted onto a production designed for a non-disabled audience. Her collaborations with theatre companies such as Ramps on the Moon have raised questions about why her work is more of an exception rather than the norm in mainstream theatre. This vision is continued in her straight telling of Shakespeare’s gory tragedy.

You could be forgiven for misinterpreting the opening montage of Leach’s production for a movie trailer or something lifted from Game of Thrones as the witches babble their portents and the major characters of the story are introduced. For the hordes of GCSE students this is possibly a familiar and welcome addition to ground them into the action from the outset and break down any initial barriers about understanding Shakespeare. Leach has cast northern actors with the flat vowels of Yorkshire and Lancashire unapologetically shaping Shakespeare’s language – akin to the work of Northern Broadsides. Tachia Newall and Jessica Baglow play the murderous couple intent on vaulting to higher status with impressive performances. Interestingly, Leach begins the play with the couple agonising the loss of their baby. Baglow’s performance throughout, therefore, is peppered with grief, pregnancy and miscarriage with the blood on her hands being more than that of just King Duncan’s.

Most noticeable about Hayley Grindle’s design is the enormous wooden drawbridge centre-stage that at times becomes almost a floating platform. It is an effectively simple looking design that allows imagination to fill in the mis-en-scene – especially the banquet scene sans banquet. With scorched black earth, steel trusses and a puddle that doubles as cauldron the design is rugged, wild and barren. Complemented by Chris Davey’s lighting design that employs starkly projected moving lights, it is a cold and inhospitable environment.

Director Amy Leach’s ambition, perhaps, is for the casting of actors with disabilities to not be noteworthy. However, it would do injustice to the ingenuity of the storytelling not to mention the casting of Macduff (Adam Bassett) and Lady Macduff (Charlotte Arrowsmith) as d/Deaf actors. Their words are often translated by other members of the cast, repeated back as questions or simply inferred. The result is an expert lesson in how storytelling and language can find a route through any barriers when placed in safe hands. The interpretation can lead to extra comic effect as The Porter tries to relay the effects of drinking in terrible mime but, on the other hand, flavours the action with extra horror as Lennox (Tom Dawze) must interpret in BSL and report the murder of Macduff’s wife and children. Just occasionally a character’s declaration to interpret rather than actually simply interpreting felt a little awkward.

This is a captivating production – clear and unapologetic in its intentions with its metaphor of an enormous drawbridge. It doesn’t deal excessively with the manipulation and toxicity of the Macbeths but it is a clean and economic version that is exciting to watch.

Runs until 19th March

The Reviews Hub Score


The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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