William Shakespeare
Nottingham Playhouse/Royal Lyceum production
Nottingham Playhouse

Publicity photo

A Scottish version of the Scottish play: director Lucy Pitman-Wallace has set Shakespeare's shortest work in medieval Scotland and decided against any real gimmicks. So you'd think it was virtually a guaranteed success. Unfortunately it's lacking in a number of departments.

This joint enterprise between Nottingham Playhouse and Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum gives the impression of being a low-budget production. There are only eleven actors, some of whom double up or even play four parts - no doubt quite confusing for anyone who doesn't know Macbeth intimately.

Liam Brennan, an experienced Shakespearean actor, takes the title role but is rarely convincing as the cruel tyrant. He doesn't give the impression of being a warrior and there's no major transformation from the reluctant murderer of Duncan into a driven despot.

However, Brennan shows true doubt about grasping the opportunity to become king and he excels in the scene in which the vision of Banquo's ghost sends him temporarily insane.

Amazingly Allison McKenzie had never read Macbeth until she was asked to play Lady Macbeth, so she brings no preconceptions to the part.

But she's not evil enough to be the driving force in the Macbeths' marriage. When she's trying to persuade her husband to do the deed in Duncan's bedroom, she almost treats it light-heartedly and she shrieks too much when she's sleep-walking.

She does come into her own though after she goes off to plant the daggers on Duncan's servants.

Jimmy Chisholm doesn't present a particularly regal Duncan - basic costumes give little scope to depict royalty - but he's a delightful porter and an authoritative doctor.

For me, Christopher Brand is the success of the evening, an impressive Macduff who is suitably grief-stricken when he discovers that his wife and children have been slaughtered.

Lucy Pitman-Wallace has introduced a few strange touches. She has one or more of the witches lurking in the background on occasions - but it's difficult for them to be on stage all the time as the trio have several other roles to play.

The three of them appear together for the concluding battle between Macbeth and Macduff, yet they seem to get in the way of the swordfight. That too seems unconvincing, with the two combatants deliberate and predictable in their movements.

When Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane, it's in the form of leafless tree trunks which look nothing like a moving forest. They're carried by an army of four people; the true-to-life sounds of battle can't hide the visual inadequacies.

Lucy Osborne's set is a multi-level affair with grey, torn drapes that lead to plenty of entrances and exits. A circular platform raised at one end dominates the stage and gives a claustrophobic feel, possibly to compensate for the small number of actors on stage at any one time.

Some of the minor characters' words vanish into the air before you get the chance to hear them in a production which has a strange feeling of being under-rehearsed, even though it's already been through a four-week run in Edinburgh.

It's all a bit spiritless.

"Macbeth" continues until November 15th

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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