Macbeth

William Shakespeare
Barbican Theatre
Residence One Garden, Royal William Yard, Plymouth

Fourth up in the Barbican Theatre’s Bard In the Yard programme is a powerful and compelling modern day Macbeth.

Pared back to bare bones, bare boards and much scaffolding, the eight-strong cast creates an intense atmosphere despite the open air venue, plenty of seagulls and holiday-mode voices carried in on the sea breeze. Impressive.

Director Jo Lyon keeps the focus tight and cleverly utilises text messaging to shortcut lengthy speeches while a careful edit keeps the piece pacey and punchy.

Local lad Hussan Maarfi is a breast-beating Macbeth with panther-like agility and machismo aplenty while his angst and growing acceptance of the inevitable bloody price of supremacy is believable. His naïve reliance on the witches’ prophesy barely masks his crumbling confidence and eventual outright terror as, to the incessant sound of drumbeats, his fate marches closer.

Seren Vickers is charismatic as power-hungry, opportunist, leather trouser-clad Lady Macbeth, whispering plots and platitudes into her doubting husband’s ear, urging murder and betrayal while entrancing and amusing visitors. Vickers’s portrayal of descent into the incurable nightmares of mental anguish is nicely balanced and beautifully timed evoking pity rather than tedium. Tremendous—as is her choreography of the many fight sequences.

Home-grown (Theatre Royal’s Young Company, Barbican Theatre’s COMPANY b) Alexander Dover makes a good fist of ghostly Banquo (whose much-mentioned cut throat has seemingly vanished) and a vengeful Malcolm while his National Youth Theatre colleague and Narwhal Ensemble founder John Inkerman is a regal Duncan and avenging Macduff.

The versatile quartet of Abigail Cowan (also a poignantly terrified Lady Macduff), Ruan Evans, Danny Laine and John James McColl is almost constantly on stage and in one character or another whether betrayed friends, courtiers, Weird Sisters or just hanging about as a sneering, brooding presence with mobile phones at the ready to capture poignant or pivotal moments.

Clever stuff and a fab setting in a tranquil garden within Plymouth’s old Royal Navy victualling depot.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell