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Macbeth - A Superb Performance

Rueben Joseph and Valene Kane as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Photo Marc Brenner © RSC.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 14 October 2023.

Review by Ann Evans

Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is more than just a play, it’s an experience – an unforgettable experience. Whether you’re familiar with the story of Macbeth or not, you will be caught up with the drama from the very start, as the three weird sisters – or witches, writhe their way slowly out of the misty ground accompanied by loud powerful sounds. It’s not music as we know it, but dramatic, heavy sounds from the onstage musicians whose orchestra consists of pipes, tuba, bass trombone, euphonium, sousaphone, percussion and saw/hammered dulcimer – a gathering of unusual musical instruments that create menacing sounds, blackening the mood and warning of ominous dark deeds to come.

The witches accost Lady Macduff (Emma King)and her children. Photo Marc Brenner, (c) RSC.

The witches – Amber Sylvia Edwards, Eilidh Loan and Dylan Read have an unearthly aura about them – weird sisters indeed, their movements quite freakish and brilliantly choreographed by Julia Cheng who creates spellbinding moments throughout the entire play with all of the characters, ranging from an approaching army to action in slow motion; moments when time is totally suspended as in a freeze-frame; and dramatic fight scenes. And a scene involving the witches that will leave you open mouthed - but no spoilers! Every movement is designed to heighten the drama and atmosphere of Shakespeare’s great Scottish thriller.

The witches, Amber Sylvia Edwards, Dylan Read and Eilidh Loan.Photo Marc Brenner, (c) RSC.

Macbeth (Rueben Joseph) and his good friend Banquo (Anna Russell-Martin) are returning from battle where both have fought valiantly for King Duncan. They meet the three witches and are given three prophecies – one being that Macbeth will become King of Scotland. Spurred on by his manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth (Valene Kane), she persuades him to murder King Duncan when he visits their home and put the blame on the servants.

Macbeth and Banquo (Anna Russell-Martin). Photo Marc Brenner (c) RSC.

With the deed done Macbeth is wracked with guilt but nevertheless, he murders again – arranging for Banquo to be killed so that the witches’ predictions for him that his sons would rule Scotland, did not come to fruition. It’s a deed that torments Macbeth as Banquo’s ghost haunts him.

As you would expect for an RSC performance, the acting is superb but special mention to Rueben Joseph as Macbeth – a massively emotional undertaking as he changes from a brave and loyal military captain to a murderer, racked with horror and guilt at his own misdeeds.

Lady Macbeth, Valene Kane.Photo by Marc Brenner(c) RSC.

As for Lady Macbeth, Valene Kane plays the role very sensitively – subtly almost in her demeanour, the adoring passionate wife upon his return from battle – excited by the witches’ predictions. Filled with her own self-worth when he becomes King. The perfect host to her banquet guests, covering for her husband and his insane behaviour as he alone sees the ghost of Banquo. But eventually guilt ridden and unable to remove the blood from her own hands, she goes mad and kills herself.

Alison Peebles as the Porter, George Anton as Macduff and Kevin Lennon as Lennox. Photo by Marc Brenner(c) RSC.

In writing this tragic story back around (we think) 1606, William Shakespeare must have felt the audience needed some respite in all of this misery and bloodshed, and so he introduced the Porter scene! Alison Peebles plays Seyton, the Porter – or gateman to Macbeth’s home, who speaks directly to the audience with satirical wit and humour. For Director Wils Wilson, she brilliantly decided to enlist stand-up comedian Stewart Lee to re-write this scene. His interview published in the programme talks of his initial reluctance – unsure if he could do justice to such an important piece of work. I just hope he was in the auditorium to judge the audience’s reaction which must have equalled the laughter and applause he receives from his normal stand-up performances. Alison Peebles' timing and deliverance of his jokes was superb.

George Anton as Macduff. Photo by Marc Brenner(c) RSC

The entire play was indeed superb with great performances from everyone – those I’ve mentioned but also Shyvonne Ahmmad as Malcolm, Emma King as Lady Macduff and George Anton as Macduff, whose killing of Macbeth was traumatic to watch but brilliantly acted – and equally brilliantly directed with the special effects, lighting and sound.

Whether, like me, you’ve never seen Macbeth before, or have watched it a dozen times or more, this production taking place during the 400th anniversary of the First Folio, is just incredible and you will come away with lasting images and more in awe than ever of the greatest playwright that ever lived, William Shakespeare.


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