National Theatre's Macbeth, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre - review with pictures
With the Grand Theatre's stage transformed into a half-lit post-apocalyptic vision of the not-too-distant future, the scene was perfectly set for this production of Shakespeare's most blood-thirsty play, Macbeth.
And from the moment the weird sisters spring onto stage in plastic macs, moving as one in a hypnotic trance and shimmying up and down trees like seasoned pole-dancers, there was no let-up in the tension.
The background music and sound effects, almost inperceptible at times, but always there, builds the intense, sinister atmosphere, leaving some of those in the audience literally on the edge of their seats while the action unfolds.
This National Theatre production of Macbeth sees the title role played by Michael Nardone, who conveys all the complexities of the character with ease.
He appears on stage as the proud victor, with his then pal Banquo, before becoming enthralled by the pole-dancing witches as they deliver their fateful prediction of his future.
He is seen to be honoured by King Duncan, played by Tom Mannion, whose royalty is denoted successfully by his bright red suit, a flash of colour amid the drab greys and khakis of the war-weary soldiers he is surrounded by, before returning home to prepare for the impending royal visit.
Here we meet Lady Macbeth, played brilliantly by Kirsty Besterman. She manages to convey the perfect blend of strength and vulnerability; the fragility of her mind, so easily disguised in her initial scenes, becoming more evident as the action continues until her final descent into madness and ultimate suicide.
Her acting ability and clear enunciation bring some of Shakespeare's most famous lines to life - as well a few lesser-known ones; her response to Macbeth ruining a dinner party when he begins seeing visions of the freshly-murdered Banquo with a perfectly-timed "you have displaced the mirth" brings a few hearty chuckles from the audience.
The porter, played by Deka Walmsley, also deserves a mention for his humorous interlude, full of Shakespearean smut and innuendo, which elicited more than a few chuckles, particularly from the huge number of teenagers in the audience, there because Macbeth is on this year's GCSE syllabus.
Macduff, played by Ross Waiton, cut an impressive figure on stage, particularly in the fight scenes, but sadly seemed a little underwhelmed at the news that his entire family had been slaughtered.
By contrast, the scene which sees Macbeth tenderly cradling his wife's lifeless body as he delivers the line 'out, out brief candle' is moving and emotional and leaves the audience virtually silent for the first time.
While the setting of this production is effective and creative, enhancing the brutality and bleakness of this tragedy, some elements came across as a little crass. The placing of Macduff's slaughtered babies in plastic bags comes to mind as does the beheading of Macbeth in the final scenes of the play.
As Macduff holds aloft a model plastic head with a vague resemblance to the actor, it is hard not to think that sometimes suggestion and leaving a little to the imagination is sometimes is more powerful than an attempt at realism.
All in all a great performance that had the audience gripped, and I'm certain will have strengthened many a student's knowledge of this play ahead of their GCSE exams.
Runs at the Grand until March 16.