Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Macbeth - Manchester Royal Exchange

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Director: Mathew Dunster
Reviewer: Anthony Ducker

Macbeth is the shortest of Shakespeare's plays and is one that has high regard, with many productions either being famously fantastic or dreadfully bad, something any director would not take on lightly. Yet when I heard that Mathew Dunster was to give us a very contemporary take on Macbeth, I was a little unsure as to how or why he would tackle such a task, could it even work?
There have been many adaptations of other Shakespeare plays, some brought right up to date that do work really well, but Matthew decided he wanted to make huge changes. In a recent interview Matthew laughs stating "I've taken not scissors but a pair of garden shears to it." And he has d one just that, for example we no longer have the three witches and their witchcraft, these are replaced by three very young girls or the 'weird sisters' I must admit I really enjoy the witches spell casting in the original production of Macbeth, so I was a little worried about their lack of presence, and what other changes were there to come?

The opening scene had me gripped almost immediately with the three sisters watching television and playing with dolls in their room when suddenly they come under attack from soldiers. The girls soon become the helpless victims of war and re-appear through out, bloodied and dirty, they give a very eerie performance and replaced the witches well. The story works perfectly in this modern day setting, it is violent and bloody using guns and knives in cleverly orchestrated fight scenes, all of which gave a very strong sense of war, more so than in previously seen productions.

Lady Macbeth (Hilary Maclean) appears as a very strong modern woman, an over ambitious wife fuelling Macbeth and the need for him to be king with her Cocaine psychosis, leading him to betrayal and murder. The dagger scenes are very poignant Macbeth dipping his hands in a bucket of blood which looked frighteningly realistic, and more so with the sharp white lighting during the scene, with a strong performance of Macbeth by Nicholas Gleaves.

The set was minimal and quickly changed with a clever use of video linking parts of the play together. Contemporary music such as 'The Promise' by Girls Aloud was very surprising, we even see Macduffs son (Tom Glynn-Whitehead) murdered along to 'Thats Not My Name' by the Ting Tings, yet because of how it has been thoughtfully put together, it all works amazingly well.

Ian Dickson has done a fantastic job with the sound, from the eerie sounds for the sisters to the subtle noise from aeroplanes overhead adding to the modern day setting. And the production moved along flawlessly with some memorable performances and an ending that resembled Barack Obamas race to the White house.

I would recommend this play to everyone not just fans of Shakespeare, Matthew's attempt to get rid of the intellectual baggage I feel has worked, it is very powerful and a very modern take on a classic story of tragedy, betrayal and murder.

Photos: Jonathan Keenan
Macbeth runs at The Royal Exchange until Sat 11th April 2009
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