Date: March 8 2019
Location: Epstein Theatre, Liverpool
Set during the aftermath of a ruinous civil war in Scotland, this new production of ‘The Scottish Play’ looks at the effect of war, betrayal and cruel ambition. Daniel Taylor produces and directs Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Epstein Theatre, with Sean Jones and Warwick Evans taking the roles of Macbeth and King Duncan respectively.
The tale begins when brave Scottish general Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and spurred to action by his wife, he plans to murder King Duncan and take the Scottish throne for himself. However, he is then wracked with guilt and paranoia. Lady Macbeth, played by Tracy Spencer-Jones, suffers none of her husband’s uncertainty. She desires the kingship for him and wants him to murder Duncan in order to obtain it. She persuades Macbeth to kill the king at Inverness. The plan is to get Duncan’s two chamberlains drunk so they will pass out, and they will then blame them for the murder as they will remember nothing.
While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth stabs him, despite his doubts and a number of supernatural occurrences, including a vision of a bloody dagger. When Duncan’s death is discovered the next morning, Macbeth kills the chamberlains and easily assumes the kingship. Duncan’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee to England and Ireland, respectively, fearing that whoever killed Duncan wants them dead too.
The set is very atmospheric with spooky lighting, eerie sounds and copious amounts of mist. I struggled a little with the sound and diction of a couple of characters, but overall the plot was easy to follow. Macbeth visits the witches again, and they prophesise that Banquo (played by Gareth Llewelyn) and his heirs will try to seize the throne, so Macbeth hires a group of murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. They ambush Banquo but fail to kill Fleance, who escapes. It all begins to unravel for Macbeth, and that night Banquo’s ghost pays him a visit!
Macbeth goes back to visit the witches in their cavern, and now they tell him to beware of Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who opposed Macbeth’s accession to the throne. When he learns that Macduff has fled to England to join Malcolm, Macbeth orders that Macduff’s castle be seized and, most cruelly, that Lady Macduff (played by Kaitlin Howard) and her children be murdered. The murder scene was particularly powerful.
When news of his family’s execution reaches Macduff in England, he vows revenge. Prince Malcolm, Duncan’s son, has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeth’s forces. The invasion has the support of the Scottish nobles, who are appalled and frightened by Macbeth’s tyrannical and murderous behaviour.
In the meantime, Lady Macbeth begins sleepwalking, believing she has bloodstains on her hands. Before Macbeth’s opponents arrive, he hears that Lady Macbeth has killed herself, causing him to sink into a deep and pessimistic despair. The English army overwhelm Macbeth’s army and castle, and he ends up facing a vengeful Macduff, who kills and beheads him. Malcolm is then crowned at Scone as the new King of Scotland.
Although two and a half hours long (including the interval), this timeless piece of theatre proves that Shakespeare’s tales can still captivate and excite an audience – especially given the expert handling of Daniel Taylor.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10 – Excellent