Theatre Review: Macbeth @ Tobacco Factory Theatres
by Polly Hember

Set upon a gravelly heath fashioned from shredded rubber tyres, with eerie flashing lights, a tense soundtrack that could have been out of horror film Silent Hill, prosthetic bloody heads waved around in clear plastic bags and enough fake blood smeared on the ensemble to make you feel queasy – the Tobacco Factory Theatres present a shocking, stark and hugely successful Macbeth.

Directed by Adele Thomas, Macbeth is stylistically brave. The audience encircle the small, round stage which is heaped with synthetic gravel and set with a flashing cube of light. The bleak sparsity of the set, cleverly designed by Anisha Fields, instils a cold, shivering immediacy and places audience right into the heart of the bloody action.

"Tobacco Factory Theatre’s Macbeth is, quite literally, bloody brilliant."

Starting off with a chilling Gaelic chant from the three witches which eliminates any of the hackneyed cliché of “double, double, toil and trouble”, dressed in white dresses with gauze wrapped around their heads to cover their faces, the action explodes. A perfect balance of action and uneasy tension propels the production forward to its bloody ending.

Flashing lights from florescent strips flicker throughout the scenes, with specific attention to Macbeth’s monologues, providing a microscopic intensity to his conflict. The white noise acts as a static, uneasy background to the fast-paced dialogue. The majority of the sound goes unnoticed, apart from the odd buzz of a flies which cleverly hints at rot, death or corruption, mirroring the descent of the Macbeths with brilliant subtlety.

Katy Stephens steals the entire show. This is quite something, when the show in question possessed such clever staging and a strong ensemble. Stephens’ Lady Macbeth was entirely convincing. She manages to explore Lady Macbeth’s complex character perfectly; from the passionate glee as she greets Macbeth (Jonathan McGuinness) after his promotion to the murderous ambition and desire of the “unsex me” monologue to the wild, scrabbling and hand-wrangling of “out, damn spot!”, to the raw pain she presents in her sleepwalking scene where she hits pillars and scrambles, digging away in the uneven floor for a resolution that will never come. She was hugely captivating, delivering each line with certainty and intensity.

I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on her off-stage suicide, which was delivered in deadpan and brushed off too quickly by McGuinness. But this is a minor complaint. A slightly more worrying concern was the costume choice of heels for some of the female performers. The treacherous landscape of synthetic detritus made for an effective setting for the drama but the choice to have performers navigate the mound of gravel in heels was an odd one, especially in comparison to the huge boots worn by the men. A pair of Lady Macbeth’s white high heels in particular produced distracting anxiety about Stephens’ safety, as she teetered and contorted her posture to walk, detracting attention from the tense lines exchanged.

All other costume choices were fantastic and contributed to the shocking nature of the production. From the eerie, shrouded witches, to the amount of blood smeared on fellow actors faces and clothes (Duncan’s blood on Lady Macbeth’s face, Macbeth’s bloody handprint on her white dressing gown, Macduff (the brilliant Joseph Tweedale) covered in Macbeth’s blood without an inch of clean skin at the gory dénouement), all contributed to the vivid shock tactics employed throughout.

Tobacco Factory Theatre’s Macbeth is, quite literally, bloody brilliant. With a fantastic ensemble including the one of the best live performances from Stephens, this production is unafraid to tackle the complexity of the tragedy of Macbeth. Full of vivid emotion that will haunt the audience like their own ghostly Banquo; that gut-wrenching scream from Lady Macduff (Maggie Bain) as she watches the murder of her son; Macduff’s heartbreak when he learns that “all my pretty ones? All my chickens?!” have been murdered and that moment of grief as it curdles and turns into murderous anger; the guilty fear of Macbeth himself, will all stay with you long after you leave the theatre. Adele Thomas’ Macbeth is vivid, visceral, and hugely effective.

Macbeth continues at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday, April 7. Click here for more information and to book tickets.

Photos by Mark Dawson.

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