Any production team on Macbeth must feel the weight of theatre history on their shoulders. With so many different productions there is a need to be distinct, to add something to the Reception of the Macbeth story.
The first thing that struck me when I entered the theatre is the magnificent set for this story. Diana Ennis has captured the mood perfectly. The set is steeped in suffocating darkness, the weight of pebbles on the upper layer crushing the signs of normality below. It is dramatic, epic and courageous, a portent of the production to follow.
I loved Lynne Parker's take on the weird sisters. They are completely integrated into the society around them, having domestic lives as well as going mysteriously about their supernatural lives. Their furtive glances and artful ability to slip into the shadows is creepy. The witches are all powerful, always around Macbeth, whether in his mind, putting words into his mouth, within the domestic characters surrounding him or as apparitions.
Stuart Graham as Macbeth is strong, and he is adept at removing his ties to reality bit by bit. His descent into madness is realised with true fear and incomprehension. His partnership with Lady Macbeth never seems quite passionate enough. "Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it." says Lady Macbeth. I was a little disappointed in this portrayal which was too subtle a depiction of what I see as a tenacious and manipulative character. Even before her descent into guilt, I never quite believed that she was the powerful woman of ambition that she is written to be.
Paul Mallon makes an interesting McDuff. At first I couldn't understand his seemingly underwhelming response to the news of the massacre of his family. But the stiff way he holds his body and the hang of his head was not unemotional but rather his body was filled with restrained anger. The power and emotion he mustered into in a yell of pure revenge when he killed Macbeth ensured I felt his pain and then some.
Banquo is especially brilliant as a particularly devilish apparition, challenging Macbeth without saying a word, a testament to Michael Condron's skill as an actor.
Two moments jarred with my overall experience. The apparation which appears from a trapdoor on the stage adds misplaced humour which does not fit with the overall sense of hysteria Macbeth is feeling. The modern costumes and use of torches fits well with the production but I felt that the addition of army style radios was a step too far into modernity.
All round I thought this was a fantastic and interesting production and one that adds to the reception of the myth of Macbeth. The production felt particularly rooted in Ireland, and indeed in Northern Ireland. The blackness of the set, crunching of pebbles and strategically distributed haze would not feel out of place on Belfast's Black Mountain. It's not too fantastic to believe that you could meet one of the weird sisters walking through our streets. The retention of the actors' Belfast accents and the simpleness of their dress gives more than just a nod to their Belfast birthplace.
Macbeth runs until 24th November at the Lyric Belfast.