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Macbeth – Shakespeare North Playhouse, Prescot

Reviewer: Phil Goodwin

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Richard Twyman

The opening of this contemporary new Macbeth is English Touring Theatre’s first international tour since the pandemic and the first to use Shakespeare North’s impressive new Frons Scenae. A thrilling production – full of ingenious sound and palpable fury – it makes great use of the space behind this ornate backdrop of pillars and arches, only the second such installation in the UK after London’s Globe.

The show immediately grips the audience with a clever take on the Three Witches – confronting the death of hundreds of innocent women and reminding us how daring this scene must have felt during the persecution. From there, we enter Chez Macbeth – a cosy pad made comfy with a recliner and drinks trolley but finished off with an unsettlingly long row of sharp kitchen knives magnetised to the fridge.

Mike Noble, quietly menacing in the title role, sends news of the prophecy to Laura Elsworthy’s Lady Macbeth on Facetime, and from there the tender moments they enjoy together seem charged with horror. Director Richard Tywman presents their blood-soaked climb to the throne including hand-held camera and two overhead screens – Banquo’s ghost at the feast is a standout moment – while depth is added to the staging with asides and exterior scenes in and behind the Frons Scenae.

There is enough light relief in the show to counter the brutality – bass-thumping party scenes and cringing Karaoke – but the violence is at times sickeningly real. Kevin McCurdy deserves credit as fight director for some incredibly realistic hand-to-hand combat, particularly between the impressive Guy Rhys, as Macduff, and the doomed tyrant.

Also, sound designer Tingying Dong whose visceral and haunting soundscape makes great use of live bagipes and adds to the tension. The co-production between ETT, Northern Stage, Shakespeare North Playhouse and Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg is a fast-moving, visceral and thought-provoking piece of theatre from an impressive cast.

The contemporary aspects are not over clever and work to enhance the storytelling while the physical approach to the action makes for a realistic feel. It looks set to dazzle audiences well into next year.

Runs until 23 September 23 then continues its tour.

The Reviews Hub Score

Hauntingly Powerful

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