MACBETH. The Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon.
Gregory Doran's impressive new production begins with a total blackout. The witches are heard but not seen. That establishes the atmosphere for the rest of the play. Apart from the England scene, a murky darkness prevails, signifying the moral nihilism that increasingly grips Scotland.
The pace is headlong. Characters arrive breathless and hurtle through their lines in this memorably successful production that is played without an interval.
Antony Sher meticulously plots Macbeth's descent from genial warlord to hardened tyrant. His piercing eyes reveal a diseased mind, succumbing to paranoia as fears and conscience are eventually stripped away.
Doran's modern-dress production evokes Kosovo, and is punctuated with stunning moments of theatre. The triumphal entries of Duncan, Macbeth and Malcolm are thrillingly staged. So too is the transition from the banquet to the apparitions scene, as the witches explode from under the table. Macbeth's death is caused by the reappearance of the hallucinatory dagger.
Stephen Noonan's Porter nearly steals the show with an imitation of Tony Blair and an assault on the audience with a knock-knock routine. Similar disruption of realism recurs throughout, most notably when Sher seems to step out of role with "a tale told by an idiot", underlining the play's theatricality and contemporary relevance.