Remorse, guilt and violent despair;Arts;Theatre

12th November 1999 at 00:00
MACBETH. Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh until November 20.

Jennifer Black's Lady Macbeth illuminates the play. Review by Raymond Ross.

This production of Shakespeare's Scottish play seems perfectly pitched for school audiences, with its high-tech lighting, giggling flirtatious young witches and atmospheric soundtrack.

On the stark imposing set huge revolving walls suggest a Border keep within which the characters are encircled and entrapped. If the battlements threaten to dwarf the players, they also suggest that forces greater than Macbeth's ambition are at work. This tragic ambiguity underlines the dramatic tension between free will and determinism and between the human and supernatural.

The tension builds as the butcher king, egged on by diabolic revelation, steeps himself in ever more blood - and his "fiend like queen", ravaged by remorse and guilt, spirals towards suicide.

Just who is in control - and who controls whom - is teasingly drawn out by the (usually) minor character of the Porter. He appears after Duncan's murder, as he should, but here he consciously echoes the guilty words of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This implies he is more than he seems, and knows more than he should, in a bit of justifiable free-wheeling over Shakespeare's text.

Many productions cut the Porter. But director Kenny Ireland has him reappear as the mysterious third man at Banquo's murder, as Seytoun arming Macbeth for his last battle and, most tellingly, in cahoots with the witches upstage as Lady Macbeth sleepwalks. This striking interpretation is true to the spirit of the play and draws an excellent performance from Tony Cownie.

Tom McGovern's Macbeth seems at times too angular and impish for a warrior king used to splitting people from nave to chaps. But he captures Macbeth's psychological disintegration acutely, and Jennifer Black's precise and telling Lady Macbeth truly puts the cat among the ravens. In one particularly startling moment she (literally) batters Macbeth for keeping himself apart from her, and you glimpse the reality of a perverted relationship which has staked everything on power only to realise its own powerlessness.

Perhaps it is also the power of Macbeth as a recommended text for Higher English, and the education outreach work for which the Lyceum is noted, that are drawing in schools from as far apart as Auchtermuchty, Lochgilphead and Stornoway. The production was already boasting an average audience of some 400 people a night in the first week. Well worth the bus fares and gate money - and that devilish porter sure knows how to get a young audience going.

Tickets 0131 248 4848. For education outreach information, contact Steven Small 0131 248 4800

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