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WITH productions of Henry V, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and, more recently, Maxine Peake’s acclaimed performance as Hamlet, the Royal Exchange has earned itself an excellent reputation for staging exciting, enthralling and innovative interpretations of Shakespeare’s work.
The omens for this production of Macbeth were good. Having two women play Duncan and Macbeth offered the opportunity to move women centre stage as warrior queens rather than scheming wives or batty witches.
But, as in the play itself, omens are more often portents of disaster.
Following the opening hectic scenes of abseiling paratroopers, exploding grenades and the rat-tat-tat of machine guns, the play spirals out of control into a messy, disorganised and ultimately boring cauldron of emptiness.
Billed as “Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy,” that’s not the case here. There is little darkness, few thrills and no psychological insight and the opportunity to explore the play from the perspective of two powerful women is completely missed.
The words spoken — the ones that could be heard — are Shakespeare’s but the poetry, passion and power are all missing.
This is a kind of Shakespeare by numbers, with the one slight ray of light shining through the mayhem — the performance of Theo Ogundipe as Banquo.
He alone seems to understand the nature of the play. Alas, by the time he is reincarnated as Old Siward, it is already too late to revive the mortally wounded corpse .
It took many years to build the Royal Exchange’s Shakespearean credentials, let’s hope this is merely a blip in its distinguished record.
Innovation is what keeps Shakespeare fresh, exciting and relevant but it has to be grounded in the original. Sadly this lesson appears to have been lost here.
Runs until October 19, box office: royalexchange.co.uk.
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