Theatre review - Macbeth, Manchester Royal Exchange

Macbeth at Manchester Royal Exchange. Picture: Johan Persson

Macbeth at Manchester Royal Exchange. Picture: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

The Scottish Play comes to Manchester

You don't have to look too far to find modern parallels to Macbeth's warning about unrestrained political ambition.

Certainly not on the day when Shakespeare's 'Scottish Play' has even been mentioned in the Supreme Court!

This production also indulges in the contemporary convention of putting a female lead (Lucy Ellinson) in the title role, adding another layer of complexity to the sexual power play between Macbeth and her wife.

There's the same realignment for the role of King Duncan of Scotland, played by Alexandra Mathie, even if her appearance makes her look more like Madonna's Madame X!

If director Christopher Haydon had concentrated on the gender fluidity, and the play's frequent preoccupation with 'manliness', then this may have been so much more effective. Instead this Macbeth plays more for style than substance. A lot of sound and fury, signifying less than it might have hoped for.

There's often too much focus on the production's flair, rather than the clarity of its story telling. Several scenes are overdrawn, adding up to the three-hour running time; while too many speeches are rushed - or hushed.

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The game of musical chairs before the arrival of Banquo's ghost is a case in point. It's a party piece that leads up to the interval, but one played more for stage effect than the unravelling of Macbeth's mind.

Conversely, the arrival of Porter (Rachel Denning) is more of a confused interruption than the comic interlude intended.

Lucy Ellinson's delivery of the 'If It Were Done' speech conveys all the raging doubt of a person on a hellbent trajectory, and her scenes with Ony Uhiara as Lady Macbeth capture the same intimate intensity of a destructive relationship.

But they are performances that only emphasise the lack of detail afforded to other characterisations.

Macbeth runs until October 19.