After the introspection of the Almeida’s production, it’s almost a relief to turn to a Macbeth who is palpably a man of action. It seems unfair to comment on the two together, but when two major productions open so closely together, they invite comparison.

Dominic Cooke’s production hurries, without an interval, to its grisly conclusion, with Macbeth, as he fears he will be, hounded like bear in a pit. It’s an abject end: even though there’s an inevitability about it, where Macbeth isn’t even accorded the minor triumph of killing young Siward. Macbeth is already a short play but here the action is compressed even further, a process paralleled by Robert Innes Hopkins’ backdrop concertinaing on to the stage.

There are some good performances throughout: Greg Hicks is an actor with an physical fluidity whose balletic movements reveal the physicality of the man. He’s certainly no slouch at verse speaking but at least there’s the understanding that he’s a man with martial blood in his veins. And as Louis Hilyer’s Banquo is even more bellicose, one can understand how they managed to beat the opposing forces.

There’s a physicality in his relationship with Lady Macbeth too. Sian Thomas is one of the icier portrayals I’ve seen. Although there’s a sense there’s still a sexual relationship, it’s driven more by convenience. And when Macbeth urges her to bring forth only male children, you sense that he’s going to have a damn good try.

Clive Wood’s MacDuff is outstanding, one of the best I’ve ever seen. There’s a real sense that he’s the conscience of Scotland, an all-too human conscience when it comes to the handling the slaughter of his family. Ruth Gemmell gives a nice cameo as his wife, too.

This a powerful and evocative version of this disturbing play but, through no fault of its own, suffers from its proximity to the Almeida production, compare badly with the production a few miles north) something that the original (it will Stratford production did not have to cope with.

- Maxwell Cooter

NOTE: The following THREE-STAR review dates from March 2004 and this production's original run in Stratford-upon-Avon.

There are moments of magnificence in this Macbeth, the inaugural production in the RSC's 2004 spring/summer season, but it seems short of the critical success that RSC artistic director Michael Boyd must have been hoping for. Clearly, a lot of thought and work has been put in by director Dominic Cooke and company, resulting in some new insights and moments destined to linger in the mind.

What Cooke’s staging lacks, however, is the sense of 'darkness visible'. It does not make us feel the corruptive power of evil in the way that, for example, Trevor Nunn's famous production starring Ian McKellen and Judi Dench did, nor Akira Kurosawa's film adaptation, Throne of Blood.

Here, the company are hindered in their efforts by the cavernous space of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. It’s notable that the Nunn production played in the smallest of the RSC's three venues, The Other Place (now closed), while the last RSC outing of the Scottish Play a few years back, starring Antony Sher and Harriet Walter, triumphed in the Swan Theatre.

An early indicator of the success, or failure, of a production is the witches. Dressed here in Goth cast-offs, they fail to chill until the dying moments when Macbeth is slain and Macduff/Malcolm’s forces are leaving the stage. Suddenly, the witches slither out from a grille in the stage and gather around Banquo's son, Fleance - it's a brilliant and unsettling moment.

And there are others. When Duncan announces his successor, Macbeth, still deep in thought over the recent revelations of the witches, takes half a step forward to receive the chain of office.

Greg Hicks, who triumphed last year as Coriolanus, gives an assured, richly nuanced performance. His is an Atilla of angst, a Nero of neurosis, less tyrant tyro than the victim of his and his wife's ambition.

As Lady Macbeth, Sian Thomas is similarly excellent. When her husband tells her, "We are yet but young in deed", her look of horror and sudden apprehension, is beautifully caught. Theirs are fine, intelligent performances, given able support by Richard Cordery as an avuncular Duncan, Louis Hilyer as a sturdy Banquo and Pal Aron as Malcolm.

Robert Innes Hopkins' set is simple, stark; the costumes by Tania Spooner echo Tsarist Russia; the lighting by Peter Mumford is stunning.

- Pete Wood