Macbeth, RSC Barbicn, 4****: William Russell



By William Shakespeare.


The Barbican Theatre, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS to 18 January 2019.

Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat

Runs 2hr 33 mins. One interval

TICKETS: 020 7688 8891.



Review: William Russell 23 October.

The Scottish play no more

This is a fine modern times horror story version of the play with at least one inspired idea – the witches are not hags drooling over a cauldron on the moors but malevolent schoolgirls in smart uniforms chanting their prophecies in shrill tones. It works beautifully, although in the vastness of the Barbican theatre they are not always as clear as they might be, their voices being too small to hit the back wall. But they are undeniably evil and appear throughout the play, creepy and sinister reminders that it is all going to end badly for Macbeth, Banquo and pretty well everyone else.

Polly Findlay’s production is set in some country or other more or less today – no obeisances to it being Scotland, no tartan, no bad Scottish accents, no medieval flummery. This allows for the current policy of casting people of all ethnic types to work instead of disturb because the mix on stage is the same as, if not that in the audience, the mix in the streets outside.

Christopher Eccleston’s Macbeth starts off as a soldier, a none too sensitive man of war delighted by what they tell him he will be, but a man who needs the steel provided by his wife to ensure that it comes about. The performance crackles with energy. It is only after the murder of Duncan and becomes king that, as Lady Macbeth, a slightly less steely performance than is usual from Niamh Cusack, crumbles that he turns into a killer on the rampage eliminating all who threaten his throne.

He delivers the great speeches with clarity and it is, if not the greatest Macbeth ever, a clearly thought out performance which holds the stage as it should. Maybe Cusack is less successful in conveying the will power that drove the vacillating Macbeth to commit murder, but as she declines into madness in a series of elegant gowns – she clearly relishes being queen – she becomes a tragic figure.

She has a splendid moment when, having realised Macbeth has not left the daggers behind with the two guards so that they will be blamed for the killing, and is incapable of action, she takes control. But as she heads for the scene of the murder she kicks of her scarlet stilettos.

The text has been cut, as always, but the version flows smoothly and the tension rises relentlessly as the body count increases and the arrival of that fatal wood on the march looms ever closer. The digital clock which counts down the passage of time – it is, after all, only counting the passing of the play, the events happening over a much longer time scale – is either inspired or an irritation, and for me the latter.

The set is a stark affair with a large expanse of carpet on which the action takes place and a few chairs at the back on which people sit waiting their turn. The Porter, for instance, is a constant presence marking up the body count on a handy blackboard, a ploy which is the essence of the horror movie – awful things keep happening.


The cast as a whole is sound although some of the verse speaking could be better. There is a suitably posh county gent Macduff from Edward Bennett and a doddery Duncan – he needs a wheel chair – from David Acton, patently a king whose time has come murder or no murder. Findlay has devised a plausible world in which the bloody events take place – this Macbeth is every military dictator who rises over the dead bodies of his rivals only to fall in his turn in a welter of gore – and leaves us with not much hope that things are going to improve under the shilly shallying Malcolm.

Macbeth: Christopher Eccleston.

Lady Macbeth: Niamh Cusack.

Banquo: Raphael Sowole.

Duncan: David Acton.

Macduff: Edward Bennett.

Malcolm: Luke Newberry.

Lennox: Tim Samuels.

Ross: Bally Gill.

Security Guard: Tom Padley.

Porter: Michael Hodgson.

Lady Macduff: Mariam Haque.

Donalbain: Donna Banya.

Fleance: Carlo Braithwaite, Taye Junaid-Evans, Tyrell Russell-Matthew.

Aides: Afolabi Alli, Donna Banya, Raif Clarke, Josh Finan.

Bloody Captain: Stevie Basaula.

Soldiers: Afolabi Alli, Stevie Basaula, John Macaulay, Tom Padley.

Doctor: Katy Brittain.

Siward: Paul Dodds.

Young Siward:Afolabi Alli.

Chamberlains: Paul Dodds, Jhn Macaulay.

Scottish Force: David Acton, Stevie Basuala, Mariam Haque, John Macaulay.

English Force: Raif Clarke, Tom Padley, Raphael Sowole.

Lords/Ladies: Afolabi Alli, Donna Banya, Katy Brittain, Mariam Haque.

Young Macduff: Hari Aggarwal, Alexander Molony, Jaden Oshenye.

Witches: Ceyda Ali, Tia Sofie Begh, Miranda Beinart-Smith.

Murderers: Afolabi Alli, Stevie Basaula.

Director: Polly Findlay.

Designer: Fly Davis.

Lighting Designer: Lizzie Powell.

Composer: Rupert Cross.

Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt.

Movement Director: Aline David.

Barbican Movement Director: Anna Morrissey.

Fight Director: Kate Waters.

Illusions: Chris Fisher, Neil Henry.

Production Photography: Sophie Teasdale.


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