Theatre Macbeth at The Everyman Theatre, Liverpool, 24th Feb 2003

It isn’t often that a performance of Shakespeare is so good, you’re on a keyboard writing about it just twenty minutes after it ended, before the actors have probably even gone home. But this is a special occasion. This new performance of ‘Macbeth’ is so good I recommend that any of my American readers should immediately jump on a plane and fly over here, because it doesn’t get much better than this.

This is the first production from ‘Me Old Chimney Productions’ formed from graduates of Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and LAMDA. In the programme they say that their ‘sole purpose it to enlighten and inform this story – because this story has to be told, other wise we wouldn’t be telling it.’ The setting is very functional. Three steel posts and a throne. This is a production about lighting design and people in space. The first job of the cast and director Niall Costigan is to make a familiar story different enough so that when the important moments happen it feels like the first time even for those of who have traveled down this road many times.

This is achieved immediately by elevating the position of the witches. They are there at the beginning to animate a floored Macbeth, banging drums to rouse him from some primordial sleep, a puppet of sorts for them to control. They’re striking presences, Ian Edwards, Charley Desborough and Solveig Borgen. As the play progresses they’re present in almost every scene either on the edges of the scenes or active participants filling in the minor parts; the action takes even more sinister tone as it becomes clear that the everything is being manipulated by them, this silly story a product perhaps of their boredom. At times they looked past the actors into the audience, each glance sending a chill through all, their work capturing the purest of evil. At the end of the play, as they stand over the fallen Macbeth, Borgen turns to the audience … ‘When shall we three meet again?’ … and you know these three will be back.

It’s a credit to the other actors that the witches don’t entirely overwhelm the proceedings. Norman Murray’s Macbeth is not a tragic hero in this case. When he kills Duncan and looks at the blood on his hands, he isn’t feeling remorse; he’s just shit scared that he’ll be found out. With the coaxing of the witches, he lets the evil consume him and it’s all there in Murray, his broad shoulders towering above all. In a similar paradox, Leanne Best’s Lady Macbeth is not the cold manipulator you would expect. In fact when we first meet her she seems quite virginal. But when the time comes those witches are hovering again, putting words in her mouth. This absolves the Lady of some of her responsibility somewhat.

I hadn’t planned on singling out performances so much in what is a universally good cast, who despite the kilts never descend into a Jamie Mckrimmon or Mel Gibson. But I would like to thank Christopher Dane for his commanding performances as Duncan (despite a very theatrical beard) and later the Doctor who administers to Lady Macbeth. His other part, as the Porter was another departure. The porter’s scene is always an issue in any performance of Macbeth. Time has meant that it isn’t that funny any more. Many directors just cut it out; the braver ones leave it in and hope the actor can make something of it. In this case, Costigan and Dane throw out the Shakespeare and from nowhere the Porter talks directly to the audience, and in section inspired by the work of Kevin Smith favourite George Carlin, berates their bad habits during performances and the nature of language, tragedy and theatre. It’s in keeping – in The Globe, this bit would probably have been made up by the company Clown anyway – and very funny. At the end, as he reminds us he’s got play to appear in, he suggests that everyone will remember the porter he’s right. Other than the witches it’s probably the bit everyone was talking about on the bus home.

As the lights drew up at the end, the cast seemed genuinely surprised by the level of applause. There was a second curtain call. This is something I see often in productions such as this. Despite it amateur trappings, this was a night of dynamism, originality and professionalism. I wish everyone in the cast well with their next project and nurse my memories of this one.

[At one point Solveig Borgen shifted past me on the way the stage, turned looked by straight in the eye and whispered ‘foul is fair …’ I now feel like I’ve got hex on me. Does this mean I’m going to be king some time soon?]

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