Liverpool actor David Morrissey takes top billing in his home city as Macbeth bringing the curtain down on the Everyman theatre as it prepares to be demolished to make way for its redevelopment.
The theatre is treating the north west to another big name on the stage, as Morrissey follows in the recent footsteps of Jonathan Pryce and the sadly missed Pete Postlethwaite; returning to the Everyman where he honed his skills as a young actor, just as they did.
What a return. Morrissey’s bearded Macbeth is gripping stuff and transfixing to watch, and he is supported by an equally absorbing cast. Whilst taking our seats there is a gradual, misty and smoky atmosphere building around us before the witches - or weird sisters as they’re referred to - enter the stage to a table covered by a battlefield map that is lowered from the roof.
Macbeth’s fate of becoming the Thane of Cowdor and then King is forecast to him, triggering the start of this production of Shakespeare’s tragedy. The Bard’s themes of paranoia and fear – mostly through Morrissey – are tapped into and conveyed a great deal.
When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, played by Cheshire actress Julia Ford, have murdered King Duncan and have blood on their hands – and there is a lot of it – Morrissey and Ford keep your eyes firmly fixed on their exchanges and build up so much anxiety and torment.
Morrissey is a blokey bloke and heavy footed around the stage - you’re instantly aware of his presence. Ford, brought in as a replacement for Jemma Redgrave who pulled out for “personal reasons", delivers a fine foil to him. Losing Redgrave could be seen as a tragedy but Ford assures this production is not cursed and delivers a fragile, yet determined, interpretation of the role. She is not the most memorable, however.
Richard Bremmer shows great versatility as King Duncan, the porter and the doctor. The seasoned actor brings out the only humour in the production when playing the porter, which is timely giving all the terrorising and morbid scenarios being created elsewhere.
Gillian Kearney – another from Liverpool – also shows versatile prowess playing a witch and Lady Macduff. And the tragic death scene of the latter character will have me pondering for a long time how Kearney managed to keep her breath, after she is ‘drowned’ front of stage.
Francis O’Connor’s set is magnificent and imaginative; creating an industrial feel that is dingy and fitting to the warring world and tyranny within Macbeth. Loose cables running from the ceiling into a water filled cavernous crack in the set produce occasional electric sparks into the ‘Scottish play’. Atmosphere is also generated through spine tingling sound and costumes are military in look and predominately dark colours.
Gemma Bodinetz, artistic director of the Everyman and its sister the Playhouse, who is directing her first Shakespeare since arriving to Liverpool nearly eight years ago, has decided to establish no boundaries in this new production. The cast members walk through the audience to either embrace or confront each other, making you feel as though you are right in the heart of the action over the three hours of performance.
But this technique only works because of it being in the right theatre. Soon it’ll be a farewell to the Everyman, such a fitting name to a space that really pulls both the performer and audience together. Long live the new Everyman.
- Michael Hunt