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Bare bones

MACBETH Royal Shakespeare Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon

Director Tim Albery takes a daring risk in deciding to stage a non-realist, cerebral Macbeth. The witches immediately establish the tone and style. Black-robed, immobile, statuesque, they chant like a Greek chorus transported to a bleak Northern clime. They go neither hand-in-hand nor about the cauldron.

As with the witches, so with every other character. Performance must be by voice, by stillness, by aloofness from action and passion. This is a production that believes that scenery and movement cannot compete with Shakespeare's rich imagery.

To this end, the minimalist set reduces the playing space of the Stratford stage by half. A stark black box encloses a four-doored room, alarmingly resembling a village hall stage. In this empty space actors stand or sit quite still, obeying the director's taboo on both tenderness and touching.

Does Albery's gamble succeed? Roger Allam, looking like a steady sea-captain, catches something of Macbeth's inwardness. He noticeably pauses at every mention of children. But in this production, determined to be embarrassed by emotion, there's little sense of terror or evil, or of the dark power and fear that surrounds Shakespeare's feudal king.

Tickets: 01789 295623

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