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Review: Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Colchester Mercury, until October 18

PUBLISHED: 10:14 08 October 2014 | UPDATED: 10:14 08 October 2014

Macbeth at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Robert Day. Esther Hall as Lady Macbeth and Stuart Laing as Macbeth

Macbeth at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Robert Day. Esther Hall as Lady Macbeth and Stuart Laing as Macbeth


This is a production of the Bard’s Scottish play that will stay in the memory quite a while for a number of reasons. It hits you in the eye from the start with Juliet Shillingford’s bleak castle of Dunsinane with its bold geometric floor angling into the audience.

Macbeth at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Robert Day. Esther Hall as Lady MacbethMacbeth at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Robert Day. Esther Hall as Lady Macbeth

Then there’s the soldiers. No doublet and hose and head-severing broadswords here but battle-ready British paras complete with red berets and the odd machine gun.

I am rarely completely carried away by modern-dress Shakespeare and the idea of King Duncan flying in by helicopter (heard, not seen) seems a bit way out but Daniel Buckroyd’s slick show slowly grows on you.

Bit by bit you allow the anachronisms, the references to waiting horses, swords and armour, to slide over your head and let the words and the action do their stuff. It’s cleverly structured and choreographed piece which includes three unhaglike witches singing in harmony and spitting their words neatly in time to the music.

There’s a little light jazz as the guests gather for the victory banquet and the arrival of Banquo’s ghost is simply brilliant. Our eyes are drawn away to Macbeth and his lady at the side of the stage and suddenly there is Banquo sitting and glowing ethereally in the centre of the table. And he disappears just as abruptly.

Macbeth at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Robert Day.Macbeth at the Colchester Mercury. Photo: Robert Day.

Stuart Laing is the dour, ambitious Macbeth who is given a bum steer by the malicious witches and sets off on the most extraordinary round of killing, starting with his king. Esther Hall is the wife who restores his strength when his murderous resolve wavers briefly and she’s tough enough for a bit of bloody knife work to cover her husband’s tracks.

They work well together and Hall has a rather good “Out, damned spot,” mad sleep-walking scene in her nightie carrying a candle. But this is very much an ensemble piece with people playing multiple roles to find the bitter, numbed atmosphere left by Macbeth’s trail of death.

Nicholas Bailey is a fine Macduff, simmering with rage over the massacre of his family and there are good performances from Simon Ludders (Banquo), James Marlowe (Malcolm) and Georgina Sutton (Lady Macduff).

Another little ghost is Alec D’Arcy Jones, a small boy who, as well as playing a couple of apparitions, is also Fleance and Macduff’s doomed son. His roles are shared on other nights by Max Halls or Joseph Barnes.

David Henshall.

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