After Romeo and Juliet I went to see the contrasting Macbeth: a production starring Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack and directed by Polly Findlay.  After the fairly dire National Theatre version, I had high hopes for this one and I wasn’t disappointed.

The tale of the Scottish thane tempted by a prophecy into murdering his king to indulge his ambition is a well-known one. This production of Macbeth brings out the darker aspects of the play – it is presented as a psychological horror. I don’t know whose idea it was to have the three witches played by three little girls in pyjamas clutching dolls, but it was a stroke of genius. They are super creepy and very impressive, considering they are so young. Another good move is suggesting that the Porter is in fact the Devil, watching over Macbeth’s every move. Played superbly by Michael Hodgson, his very presence is sinister, even when calmly vacuuming the floor. Sound and lighting reminiscent of horror movies further reinforces this impression.

Christopher Eccleston is a strong Macbeth, but Niamh Cusack is even better as his ambitious wife, sensual and calulating. There is the interesting suggestion that what pushes her over the edge is the news that Macduff’s children have been murdered – a nod to her presumed own lost child. I was also glad to see Edward Bennett again – his performance as Macduff as he hears the news of his family’s murder is heartbreaking.

Fly Davis’ set is used effectively, with a higher stage level used to emphasise the difference between the characters playing a role, on their best behaviour following the rules of court, while the ‘real’ stuff happens on the ground.

One of the most memorable and exciting Macbeths I’ve seen, this production is superbly well done and well worth seeing.



When both the National Theatre and the RSC announced that they were doing Macbeth this year, I was both excited and bewildered. Don’t theatres ever talk to each other? Still, I was determined to see both productions and compare and contrast. Last night it was the turn of the NT’s version.

Directed by Rufus Norris, this Macbeth is set in a vaguely apocalyptic world where darkness abounds and characters cower in concrete buildings. Yet somehow I wasn’t gripped; I couldn’t muster up any sparks of excitement. For me it fell flat.

Rory Kinnear as Macbeth was unconvincing, and I also struggled to understand his speech at times; I thought he needed to work on his diction. Anne-Marie Duff, Lady Macbeth, was better: I found her conviction believable, her ambition loaded with an undercurrent of sorrow. Stephen Boxer made an impression during his short appearance as Duncan, and I also liked Kevin Harvey’s Banquo, as well as Trevor Fox’s Geordie Porter.

At times the setting was atmospheric and frightening, with the witches’ cackling echoing around the theatre. Sometimes, however, the production seemed to get lost inside the cavernous Olivier space. Rae Smith’s set design is ominous, but lacks interest: too many scenes inside small boxes, and an ugly moving walkway.

Sadly, this production was a disappointment to me: Shakespeare at the National usually leaves a much more powerful impression. I hope the RSC’s Macbeth is better…


I’m bracing myself for several productions of Macbeth this year: the RSC is doing it, the National’s doing it, and I’m kicking things off with the two-man version of the play by theatre group Out of Chaos. The production marked my first visit to the new Playground Theatre, located on an industrial estate a short bus ride from Shepherd’s Bush. If the location doesn’t sound too prepossessing, the venue is warm and welcoming, with a pleasant cafe and an auditorium that gives the impression of being highly versatile.

The play itself is a truncated version, around 90 minutes in length, solely performed by Troels Hagen Findsen and Paul O’Mahony – with occasional help from audience members, who are asked every now and then to read a line from a slip of paper. It’s impressive how well the pair are able to slip in and out of different characters – sometimes multiple times in one scene – and the pacing of the play never lets up. Props are kept to a minimum, limited to lighting and a few boxes on which the characters can climb.

I am familiar with Macbeth, but I did wonder if someone new to the play would be able to follow the story, as this version is very fast-paced. However, it still manages to be clever and highly enjoyable.

Macbeth: The Added Scenes and The Missing Scenes – John Wolfson Lecture

John Wolfson, Honorary Curator of Rare Books at Shakespeare’s Globe, gives an annual lecture on some aspect of Shakespeare’s work. This year, his lecture, which took place in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, was entitled Macbeth: The Added Scenes and The Missing Scenes.

Macbeth is unusually short for a Shakespeare tragedy, suggesting that some scenes have been lost. The play also contains scenes known to have been added by another hand. The missing scenes and the added scenes are the subject of John Wolfson’s talk this year.

I was vaguely aware that Macbeth was the shortest Shakespearean tragedy, but I honestly had no idea that some of its scenes were supposed to be missing and I certainly didn’t know that others had been added. Naturally it’s harder to tell where the missing scenes are than the added scenes, though Shakespeare scholars have made attempts to identify these over the years. Wolfson’s talk was fascinating, illuminated by actors from his forthcoming play The Inn at Lydda who enlivened proceedings by declaiming several lines of dialogue.

It is thought that Thomas Middleton was particularly culpable when it came to slotting in scenes: there was a witch called Hecate in his play The Witch so it is believed that he added the Hecate scene in Macbeth, as well as the songs. David Garrick, the famous seventeenth-century actor, added a death speech to the end of the play but naturally enough, this is not performed now. I was slightly disappointed that there was no reference to my own favourite Macbeth anecdote: the famously dreadful poet William McGonagall tried his hand at acting, and on one occasion when playing Macbeth he simply refused to die.

For me, the most illuminating aspect of the talk involved the structure of the play and how it reflects the missing scenes. Acts 1 to 3 have a strong structure with Macbeth as the main character, but Act 4 has a scene between Macduff and Malcolm, in which Malcolm tests Macduff’s loyalty, which makes no sense in the context of what has come before. It’s possible that Shakespeare did originally include this plot thread and the scenes have gone missing. We are also meant to be aware that Macbeth has been king for many years between the banquet scene and the start of Act 4 but we don’t really get a sense of this.

Macbeth is a powerful but flawed play and this talk really helped me appreciate some of the difficulties surrounding its structure and performance. I’m looking forward to both seeing and reading the play again to explore this further.


The second Macbeth production at the Globe in only a few years promised much: directed by Iqbal Khan, starring Ray Fearon and Tara Fitzgerald, it sounded like something that might have been performed by the RSC. Ultimately, I was a bit disappointed by the production.

For one thing, there were four witches. Four? I was actually distracted for much of the play, trying to work out why. Another touch was to have a child belonging to the Macbeths running around the place: a rather strange innovation, though effective in the memorable closing scene. The music was impressive, but slightly overpowering, I thought.

The two leads were effective and had strong chemistry; I particularly liked Fearon’s strong performance. Some of the other scenes fell flat, particularly the scene between Malcolm and Macduff in Act 4, although I did like the Porter scene, featuring a brilliant Nadia Albina.

Overall, a slightly disappointing experience: not as good, in my opinion, as the Macbeth a few years back at the Globe starring Joseph Millson and Samantha Spiro. Oh well.


I originally booked the Young Vic’s production of Macbeth months ago, before I realised it was a dance-theatre piece, so I have to admit I was slightly apprehensive as I took my seat. As it turned out, though, the dance wasn’t really an issue.

Lizzie Clachan’s stark set plays with perspective, and there are plenty of hidden doors for characters to escape into. The dancing, rather than being a constant part of the show, is intermittent: the scene at the Macbeths’ house, for instance, where the characters all get their groove on. Lucy Guerin’s choreography is used to greatest effect with the witches: though they wear some rather dubious flesh-coloured leotards, their jerky movements are unsettling and effectively evoke their otherworldliness.

As far as the rest of the production was concerned, I didn’t love it. John Heffernan is an incredibly well-spoken Macbeth, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by him. Anna Maxwell Martin, so good on screen, seemed lost here. The whole production struck me as rather bloodless – figuratively as well as literally – and I wasn’t especially engaged by it. Macduff, in particular, seemed hardly to respond at all when told that his entire family had just been murdered.

I have to admit I was disappointed by this production, not least because it was directed by Carrie Cracknell, who did such a good job on A Doll’s House a few years ago. Still, you can’t win them all I suppose!

Macbeth (2015)

I don’t normally visit the cinema these days, but I had to make an exception for Justin Kerzel’s new film of Macbeth. Against a beautiful backdrop of scenery, filled with rich colours, the play runs its course in a compelling production, beginning with the burial of the couple’s child: an artistic liberty which lends depth to the Macbeths’ characters and influences Lady Macbeth in particular.

Michael Fassbender is very strong as Macbeth, entirely believable as a successful army leader and compelling as he is steeped deeper and deeper into bloody betrayal. Marion Cotillard is superb as Lady Macbeth, compelling in her wickedness and human and sympathetic in her grief. Her “mad” scene in particular, which sees her return to her former home and deliver her speech quietly, crouching on the floor, seeing the figure of her child playing before her, is touching and sad.

The play has been cut to fit into its two-hour running time, and it flows superbly. I particularly liked the ending of the film, with its insinuation that the Scottish throne itself is cursed and the bloodshed will continue. An excellent addition to the canon of filmed Shakespeare.