A montage of foreboding, silhouetted images of childhood innocence caught up in the foray of a bloody war are cast against a plastic slash-curtain – much like those found in slaughter houses – to create the opening sequence of Douglas Rintoul’s production of Macbeth, currently playing at Derby Theatre.
The three witches emerge from the darkness through the post-battle haze and gather around the body of a child strewn across a piercing red slash which cuts through the centre of the stage. But whilst this adaptation of Shakespeare’s shortest play remains traditional in its portrayal of the underlying themes of ambition, regicide, revenge and guilt, these witches are neither haggard, old crones nor ethereal beings; they bring a realism which feels timeless in the eternally current struggle of political ambition.
This joint production between Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch and Derby Theatre rumbles along at a consistent pace aided by a strong cast with an unwavering energy, but occasionally misses the mark with some of the emotional dynamics within the plot.
Paul Tinto delivers a dedicated performance as the murderous Macbeth, with his rugged Scottish accent confidently showcasing the character’s surge for power. Whilst his interpretation of a brooding, masculine war-hero lays a profoundly ironic foundation for the character’s demise, Tinto’s physical reactions to Macbeth’s tortured soul and deep guilt sometimes felt a little too erratic compared to the subtlety of his monologues.
Phoebe Sparrow brings a resilient approach to the manipulative measures of Lady Macbeth; remaining stoic in the provocation of her vulnerable husband.
As the villainous pair, Tinto and Sparrow seamlessly capture the shift of balance in each other’s journey through guilt, fear and shame.
As one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, Macbeth is predominantly a vehicle for its two leading players. But this production provides a great example of a solid supporting cast with the ability to multirole a range of characters, each showcasing their versatility as actors.
Whilst there is certainly no shortage of gruesome brutality in a play brimming with murder and treason, Rintoul’s approach is not quite as terrifying or blood-curdling as you would expect and the final showdown between Macbeth and Macduff (convincingly portrayed by Ewan Somers) felt a little too quick and clean for its concept.
The gloomy, atmospheric and minimal set design is captured in Daniella Beattie’s impactful lighting design. The brooding blues and stark, stone-cold hues highlight the abrasive, metallic feel of the piece, creating the perfect enhancement of the formidable iron curtain which embodies the castle’s battlements; thus shielding Macbeth’s dark secrets.
Empowered by strong, atmospheric production values and quality performances, this production delivers.
Its universal elements maintain the tragedy’s appeal to lovers of both traditional Shakespeare and those looking for an edgier, modern twist.
Macbeth plays at Derby Theatre until Saturday 14th March.
For tickets click here