Macbeth at RSC Royal Shakespeare Theatre Review

Macbeth at RSC Royal Shakespeare Theatre Review

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Posted 2023-09-05 by Alison in Birmingham follow

Mon 28 Aug 2023 - Sat 14 Oct 2023



Many RSC directors must have wished they could tear up Shakespeare's script and rewrite it during moments of frustration - and now one has. Wils Wilson asked Solihull comedian Stewart Lee to come up with his modern-day version of the Porter's jokey reprieve from murderous scenes in the tragedy Macbeth.

Lee was in the audience to see how it was received for press night of Macbeth , which runs at Stratford-upon-Avon's Royal Shakespeare Theatre until October 14. It features about a third of the way in, which gives time for this blood-thirsty story to get going first.

Wilson's version has an earthy, elemental feel to it, evoking the misty forests of Scotland. An extra with a smoke machine walks through to create the right amount of mist and soon there will be the sound of bagpipes and brass instruments from musicians on stage that appear throughout the play.

But first, there's the three witches: amongst the best I've ever seen in a Macbeth production. These weird sisters open the performance in an eerie fashion, appearing to be born out of the ground. They take shape with wobbly limbs and furry capes. They prove to be the real gems of this production that has many highlights.



Set in the near future, it seems to be after some kind of Armageddon when there's a need for wind-up generators, the clothes feel like they are repurposed from a stylish vintage boutique and men and women fight side by side for their country.

Amongst a mainly Scottish cast, Reuben Joseph, pictured at the top of the page, is a boisterous, brutish Macbeth, more aggressive than charming. This production doesn't shy away from the violence, particularly after the interval. Macbeth's abrasiveness with his wife as the story unfolds creates an unsettling, claustrophobia and tension that verges on domestic violence.

Anna Russell-Martin, shown below, is well cast as an affable, vivacious Banquo, far gentler in contrast to this disturbing Macbeth. She has the feel of a warrior and a strong presence on stage, which sadly can't be said for Lady Macbeth.

The RSC got a well-known name in for the part as Valene Kane famously played Lyra Erso in Rogue One: A Star Wars Movie. She looks stunning but doesn't portray Lady M with the cunning or power expected, especially early on. Maybe she was directed to act it that way, but the effect is that Lady Macbeth feels weaker than I thought she should and gets overshadowed by the other characters.



The Northern Irish actress also hasn't mastered the Scottish accent but she doesn't sound Northern Irish either, but something that often sounds American.

By the time, the Macbeths have stained their hands with the King's blood in a fraught murder scene, the audience is ready for a breather. There's no way of missing Stewart Lee's "rewrite" as there's a very clear change to the proceedings.

A compere brings out on a microphone like he's in a comedy club and introduces Alison Peebles' Porter with jokes about her playing at a medieval Edinburgh Fringe. Peebles, pictured below, is seething with sarcasm and condemnation for the middle-class audience as she brings to life Lee's script that teases both GCSE students and 'pretentious' culture lovers in the audience.

It deftly moved from Shakespeare to One Night at the Apollo but it somehow fits in a quirky way. As explained, the Porter was always supposed to be the comic relief and this has just brought this section bang up to date. You could clearly hear Lee's presence through jokes on Boris Johnson and 'woke' culture.

Lee looked pleased with himself, as he should, and many were quick to go over and congratulate him after.



Dark deeds continue through to a chilling Banquo ghost scene. Because of the need for a generator, it sets up an ideal scenario for lights to flicker at the banquet. It's no wonder Macbeth is so freaked out. Grasping his head and breathing uncontrollably, there's a nod towards questioning the mental stability of this famous tyrant.

After the interval, the tempo seems to slow a little in this overly long production, although there's a welcome return of the fantastic witches, played by the excellent trio of Amber Sylvia Edwards, Eilidh Loan and Dylan Read. Well choreographed, their next predictions are enthralling and dramatic.

It gets more violent too with the shocking detailed murder of Macduff's wife and children, upsetting even though it uses puppets for the young ones. Even Macbeth gets an overly gruesome comeuppance as he's pulled away into the darkness by Macduff in cinematic fashion.

There is so much to like about this new Macbeth, although it does falter at times. The witches play a central part, never far from the action or a death. There's a lovely final touch in the closing scene too.

The new RSC Macbeth feels authentic, atmospheric and angry with unbelievably good witches you won't want to miss.

Rating: 3 and a half stars out of 5

Running time is 3 hrs 25 mins, including a 20 minute interval.

Macbeth by the RSC is at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Waterside, in Stratford-upon-Avon until October 14. Tickets cost from £10 to £65 from the RSC website here.


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262329 - 2023-09-03 15:54:09

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