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William Shakespeare National Theatre The Lowry 29 September 2018 to 06 October 2018

Michael Nardone as Macbeth
Michael Nardone as Macbeth. All pics: Brinkhoff-Mogenburg

There was virtually universal condemnation from the London critics for the National’s latest production of The Scottish Play when it opened in the Olivier earlier this year, but now, re-cast and re-staged for proscenium arch theatres – with director Rufus Norris still at the helm – it is launched from The Lowry on an 18-date UK and Ireland tour, and I have to say, yet again, never trust a theatre critic to get it right.

On the other hand, Norris does admit to some re-thinking – as well as the major re-casting – so perhaps we’re not seeing anything like the London show anyway.

It’s set in some kind of Mad Max future, in post-civil war turmoil, and is visually very black and bleak. Much of the London carping was about the visuals. But I have to say it looks spectacular (designer Rae Smith) on The Lowry’s vast stage – a steep wooden ramp against a massive backdrop of shredded black plastic, piercing lighting, costumes appropriately grimy, with combat jackets and so on. It’s been done in similar ways before, and it works again.

With the overall scale of things here undoubtedly the show’s most impressive aspect, the domestic scenes suffer from lack of intimacy, and the unappealing breezeblock huts that are wheeled on to do service as various castles seem entirely out of place. The banquet scene, for example, happens in what looks like the staff canteen and undermines the whole thing.

Michael Nardone is Scottish, so plenty of built-in conviction there. His Macbeth is no intellectual but definitely a warrior. Kirsty Besterman’s Lady M impresses in her early speeches but then rather fades from view. Very athletic Witches, who shin up tall poles circus-style

Whatever, this is a memorable Macbeth, for most of the right reasons. At its best it’s big, bold, loud and involving and presented with the primary aim of making sure the text remains paramount. It’s undoubtedly a good production with which to introduce youngsters to Shakespeare, and The Lowry was packed with them last night.


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