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Macbeth (Bolton)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Further enhancing the Octagon’s reputation as one of the very best drama houses in the north of England, artistic director David Thacker delivers a strong, swift and clear Macbeth.

It’s in modern dress – suits, coats, uniforms – emphasising its relevance to today’s tyrannies. Well, with all the bloody happenings in Syria, you would, wouldn’t you? You can then draw parallels and point out that sadly the world hasn’t yet moved on far enough from the slaughter portrayed here.

It’s in the round, on a raised oval stage, with a staircase off to one side. The colour palette is grey and steel (designer James Cotterill), with just the odd flash of scarlet, in a stripe down the trouser legs of Macbeth’s uniform and in the gown Lady M wears to the banquet.

There’s also a sinister red hellish glow from the circular pit in the centre of the stage, which serves as the witches’cauldron and from which various apparitions arise. There’s plenty of thunderous sound and dazzling light, so technically pretty impressive all round.

And it is strongly cast. Robert Cavanah’s Macbeth starts out quite ordinary and sane, very much at first pushed along by circumstances outside his control, until he does seize the moment. Suzan Sylvester, in a little black frock, is a little too declamatory on her first appearance but tones it down thereafter.

The rest are appropriately macho as required. Russell Dixon deserves particular note for a highly varied contribution that embraces a heartfelt King Duncan, one of the witches, the comic Porter and Doctor.

Thacker pushes it along at a steady pace and hasn’t seen fit to seek new interpretations of the text, unlike the recent, controversial, RSC production. So, there are witches doing the hubble bubble bit and though the text has been trimmed slightly, it shouldn’t lead to any confusions for those studying it for examination purposes.

- Alan Hulme

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