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Mr Monkey sees Macbeth at the Royal Exchange Theatre

Venue : Royal Exchange Theatre
Start date: 13th September 2018
End date : 19th October 2019
Visit date : 18th September 2019
Lucy Ellinson as Macbeth (Production photo by Johan Persson)
Macbeth (Lucy Ellinson) getting everything she thinks she wants.
(Production photo by Johan Persson)
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Macbeth
Mr Monkey looking at the poster for Macbeth.

Mr Monkey took the 192 into Manchester, and strolled along to the Royal Exchange Theatre for the press night of a new production of William Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth.

Duncan's reign as King of Scotland is threatened by a Norwegian invasion, an Irish invasion, and the revolt of two of his more powerful subjects. Luckily for Duncan, his generals Macbeth and Banquo are on hand to defeat both local and foreign foes. Unluckily for Duncan, Macbeth and Banquo meet a trio of wierd women on the way home from battle. These witches predict that Macbeth, and Banquo's descendants, will occupy the throne of Scotland. Like anyone in an Elizabethan tragedy, the Macbeths assume that only way the prediction can come true is if they murder Duncan, who just happens to be staying the night in their castle. Duncan's sons flee Scotland in a very suspicious manner, and Macbeth becomes king.

As a king, Macbeth is impressively bad. He has Banquo murdered to defeat one of the witches' prophecies, then goes on to murder most of Scotland. Eventually Scottish nobles who managed to escape to England return with an English army, and it all ends badly for Macbeth.

For this production by Christopher Haydon, Hamlet, Duncan and the Porter are played by female actors, and the setting is resolutely 21st century. This requires a little changing of pronouns in certain speeches; if there's a noticable change in the text it's a wonderful extension to the Porter's role, adding

The stage set is simple, as it has to represent various fields, forests and bits of castle. The main feature is a sort of segmented grid in the centre that opens to reveal a pool with a number uses ranging from brewing witches potions to drowning small children.

Mr Monkey was impressed by the outstandingly grim sound scape, with distant gunfire and garbled radio transmissions for the battle scenes and lots of wind, rain and thunder as Scotland itself rebels against Macbeth's unnatrual rule.

There's a nice division in costume between the combat fatigues of the battlefield scenes and the full dress uniforms of the court. Assault rifles and combat knifes replace spears and swords, and Mr Monkey found it slightly odd hearing someone waving a knife shouting about his sword.

Mr Monkey thinks this is probably the most exuberant Macbeth he or Mr Rik have ever seen (and that includes the one in which an axe flew off stage). He particularly enjoyed the witches, who break the fourth wall from the start by having qualms about saying 'Macbeth' in a theatre, and who drag someone off a banquette for munching just before Macbeth arrives. He did feel that sometimes there was a little too much exuberance - the wailing of the munching victim drowned the witches' spellmaking, and later a really neat bit of misdirection involving Banquo's ghost was obscured by a balloon. These were minor glitches in an excellent production.

Lucy Ellinson as Macbeth (Production photo by Johan Persson)
Macbeth (Lucy Ellinson) finding out that the witches don't help when everything falls apart.
(Production photo by Johan Persson)

Mr Monkey thoroughly enjoyed Macbeth and recommends it to anyone who wants to see a raucous interpretation of a classic tragedy.

Macbeth runs until 19th October 2019.

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