Review: Macbeth @ Tobacco Factory is terrifyingly good

27th February 2018

From its eerie opening, to its dynamic conclusion, Director Adele Thomas’ modern take on Shakespeare’s Macbeth is terrifyingly good from start to finish.

Part ‘Exorcist’, part ‘Pans Labyrinth’ this exploration of the corrupting power of ambition, is visually and audibly disturbing throughout. With an unrelenting urgency the action is driven by innovative staging and extraordinary portrayals by the cast. Strobing lighting, sinister soundscapes and diabolical imagery combine with what appears to be First World War costumes to provide for an ominously dark retelling.

From the outset our three witches, part Pictish prophets, part diabolical conduits, establish the mood. With their eyes, and much of their face, concealed beneath bandages, they wail like banshees, in some unholy tongue before foretelling Macbeth his fate. Illuminated all along by a minimalist cube. Their voices shrill from extensive audio effects, multiplying them like a host of devilish voices all speaking at once from within the possessed mystics.

A thoroughly modernist imagining Thomas’ effective use of technology (ably assisted by Sound Designer Max Pappenheim & Lighting Designer Matthew Graham) is never overplayed, as can sometimes be the temptation when adapting a classic tale such as this.

Soliloquies are cleverly bracketed by skittish light bulbs blinking on and off every time the claustrophobic introspection begins and concludes.

It is this light touch that helps give the performance a freshness whilst never losing what makes this such a great story.

The stage itself is decked out entirely in a thin layer of dark gravel. During many of it’s more intense moments the cast use this interesting resource in violent and animalistic ways as the descent into betrayal, madness and blood gains pace.

Blood drips from the performance and adds a grimy realism to the cast’s action. Perfectly fitting for the trench warfare like feel it exudes.

Our chief protagonists (Jonathan McGuinness as Macbeth & Katy Stephens as Lady Macbeth) lead an excellent company.

The doomed couple are the perfect blend, both flawed and unnervingly ruthless. Stephens portrayal is impassioned and totally committed, whilst McGuinness is fiercely conflicted, yet merciless.

The whole cast are equally worthy of praise with Aaron Anthony (Banquo), Maggie Bain (Lady Macduff), Joseph Tweedale (Macduff) also shining.

Young Benjamin Pleat is simply astounding as the son of both Banquo & Macduff, and his scene with Bain is absolutely astounding in both its maturity and realism, which is truly remarkable.

Throbbing with menace this is first-rate theatre and a unrelenting ride throughout, that is both true to its roots with an unsettling modernist twist.

To get tickets, or to find out more please click here.

Kevin McGough
Images: Mark Dawson Photography