William Shakespeare
Cheek By Jowl
Silk Street Theatre (Barbican)

Production photo

Hard on the heels of its sequel, David Greig's Dunsinane for the RSC, there is the chance to see The Scottish Play at Guildhall School's Silk Street Theatre next door to but for these purposes under the umbrella of the Barbican BITE10 Season.

In a bold move, Cheek By Jowl have brought us a highly conceptual, 2 hour Macbeth stripped down to, or some might suggest beyond, the bare essentials.

Nick Ormerod's design does without any props beyond a series of mismatched crates, while the cast are uniformly dressed in black. The visual effects are then created with the aid of Judith Greenwood's stunning atmospheric lighting, that becomes an art form of its own.

The only colour and levity comes in the guise of Kelly Hotten's blowsy, female Porter with broad Scots brogue and the poorest of manners.

Without costumes or settings, there must be a risk that those who arrive unfamiliar with the plot will leave little the wiser, as episodic scenes swiftly bleed into each other.

Where Declan Donnelan and his devoted team are aiming to excel is in conveying the psychology of the leading characters and they largely succeed. Will Keen is well cast as the nobleman destined for rapid accession to the Scottish throne, backed by his brow-beating wife.

Keen and Anastasia Hille in that role fully inhabit the overly ambitious couple who are eventually overcome by the need to give fate a prod with a couple of daggers that kill a blind King Duncan (David Collings). So good are they that, at times, you do feel as if you have been allowed access to their characters' tortured minds.

The doubt, followed by triumph and then fearful insanity are all portrayed with absolute conviction in what can seem an irredeemably grim evening.

The darkness reaches a peak in the scene where David Caves' Macduff painfully slowly discovers and then assimilates the fate of his wife and little ones.

If you want to understand what ambition can do to people, this Macbeth should be compulsory viewing. However, those that enjoy a little spectacle might relish the performances but be disappointed by the staging.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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