As the three witches circulate around the massive drawbridge that dominates the stark stage it’s clear that Amy Leach’s latest attempt to make Shakespeare accessible will focus on the intrigue, blood and ultimately madness in arguably his most dynamic drama.
Power couple the Macbeths are introduced as they mourn their dead child before the ambitious warrior muscularly played by Tachia Newall meets the witches who inform him he’s to be the King of Scotland despite the weak Duncan still being on the throne.
Egged on by his wife, the brave general becomes the cowardly assassin as he takes the throne before turning on everyone around him as his hubris brings about his downfall.
There is a subtle subtext of dynasty and lineage as Lady Macbeth loses another child, which helps explain her descent into madness that is never overplayed by Jessica Baglow.
But this play is really about power. and what happens when you will do anything to keep it, but Baglow’s strong power behind the throne like Cersei Lannister in another epic power struggle underlines the Macbeths as a genuine, if toxic, couple. It is also a study in how power corrupts and induces insanity when no-one dares challenges your absolute power, which is certainly a pertinent theme given events on the other side of Europe.
Designer Hayley Grindle has forged a fruitful long-term relationship with Leach and this set is her best yet. The drawbridge acts a strong focal point for the battle scenes, but was raised to create the intimate castle scenes, including a very effective banquet as Banquo’s ghost materialises in front of the stricken king.
Leach is a pioneer in integrating deaf actors as Adam Bassett’s brooding Macduff signs interpreted by Lennox, and one of the nicely underplayed witches signs too, which adds something deeper to their prophecies.
Leach has streamlined the text and if you prefer your Shakespeare full of posh people doing RP then this isn’t for you for you as this much more Northern Broadsides. As we are in the north a strong ensemble rightly uses their own accents which is far more realistic despite the occasional garbling of the text.
Many moons ago as an O level student struggling with Shakespeare on the page the RSC came to my small town to do Henry IV, Part One, and that production made me fall head over heels in love with the raw power of live theatre. This run has seen a stream of school parties coming through, and there can be little doubt that Leach’s typically intelligent, but visceral, production will have made more than a few teenagers develop a love of the live experience.
And doing that surely makes all the hard work that goes into staging the Scottish play worthwhile.
Macbeth is in the Quarry Theatre from until 19th March. Box office is 0113 213 7700 or www.leedsplayhouse.org.uk
Reviewer: Paul Clarke
Reviewed: 8th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★