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Macbeth - Royal Shakespeare Company Review

Reviewed by Mark Johnson
Disclaimer: ticket was gifted in return for an honest review.


Right from its tense opening on the misty barren Scottish landscape with horns and bagpipes sounding, Wils Wilson's gripping new production of Macbeth has you on the edge of your seat as it unfolds a more psychological study into the titular character. 

Valene Kane (Lady Macbeth) and Reuben Joseph (Macbeth). Photo by Marc Brenner.

Georgia McGuinness's set certainly is atmospheric in creating the bleak landscape of the Scottish moors, complete with dead birds that randomly fall from above. Thus providing a reminder of the horrors that are yet to unfold in this space. The space doesn't change much bar for props and a giant gold curtain that is used a couple of times. It is difficult to tell when this production is set, with characters donning rain macs and trainers, there's even the use of electric generators to provide some of the lighting. 

Reuben Joseph's Macbeth is a genius piece of casting. He commandingly carries the role from a returning war hero to the monster he becomes as he is entrapped by ambition. He shows emotion from the first meeting with the Witches who bestow the prophecy on him and this is a little jarring when it comes to the murder of Queen Duncan, he is very easily persuaded into committing the deed. After this though the anger and maddening of Joseph's performance is stupendous. He delivers the text superbly.

Valene Kane's Lady Macbeth instantly appears a bit maddening as she splashes in the rainwater but together with Joseph, they create a great central relationship. Kane's compelling delivery as the character becomes lost in the horrors that she has helped commit is power to watch.

The Witches are hauntingly portrayed by Amber Sylvia Edwards, Eilidh Loan and Dylan Read, the three often loom around the stage throughout, a timely reminder of the prophecy that bestows Macbeth in that he is safe until great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane or that he can be killed by no one born by a woman. The movement by Julia Cheng allows for the mysterious witches to glide and prance around the stage.

Wilson chooses to cast many of the usual male roles by females, and in large this works particularly with Anna Russell-Martin who excels as Banquo. What doesn't quite work is the lack of blood in this blood-thirsty play. The only blood we see is the red-painted hands of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after the murder of Duncan. The symbolisation of the deed remains ever present but it makes the initial post-murder scene not land as neither seemingly wash the blood from their hands.

Emma King (Lady MacDuff). Photo by Marc Brenner.

The production's most striking moment comes as Lady MacDuff and her babes are callously murdered, the puppeteered babes have their necks snapped to chilling sounds whilst the three witches hang from above screaming and whaling in sounds of horror. The response by George Anton's MacDuff is a little rushed as he quickly throws off any sadness and turns straight to angry revenge and rousing the English army for a charge against Macbeth.

The final battle scene between Anton's MacDuff and Joseph's Macbeth plays out like a brutal dance as the pair fight for victory. The eventual ending happens at the back of the stage largely hidden by the curtains that hang and is a little too far back after witnessing such a tiresome fight between the pair. 

Much of the pre-show chatters have centered around the Porter scene which has been re-written for this production by comedian Stewart Lee. What we are served up with is a short stand-up set delivered by Alison Peebles, she delivers wit and humour through Lee's satirical jokes that poke fun at Tory MPs including Boris Johnson and at the GCSE students who study the play and appear to be sitting in the front row. The whole scene becomes a bit jarring with Peebles explaining the purpose of the scene is to lift the piece after the royal murder, instead, we are completely lifted out of the production for a few minutes. 

The atmospheric production by Wilson uses Kai Fischer's gloomy lighting effectively to transport the audience into the bleaker world with Claire Windsor's soundscape provoking more of the horror that bestows the characters. Alasdair Macrae's soundtrack further adds to the edgy feel of the piece and is performed superbly by himself and 5 other musicians.

Wilson's production ultimately is a gripping watch and focuses on the psychology of the characters, an excellent company led by Joseph and Kane serves up a Macbeth that is engaging and engrossing. Despite a couple of flaws, this is a suspenseful must-watch for all.

Macbeth plays at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre until October 14th 2023. Tickets are available from

Anna Russell-Martin (Banquo). Photo by Marc Brenner

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