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Wyrd Sisters' production of Shakespeare's tragedy, with a predominantly female cast, at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre features impressive performances, but has flaws

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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You might be forgiven for thinking that somewhere in Britain, perhaps lurking in the sewers, are some witches insistently intoning ‘Macbeth, Macbeth, Macbeth.'

There's a lot of it about this year from Branagh's acclaimed Manchester Festival production to Joseph Millson at The Globe, an inspired non-professional version I saw at The George in Huntingdon last month and many more. And now this sparky female take on the Scottish play whose cursed reputation clearly isn't deterring producers.

There's a lot to be said for looking at this play from a woman's perspective. For a start women can cry more plausibly than men and the actors in this Macbeth give us plenty of powerful and effective weeping. More seriously, perhaps, it poses questions about women and status while three hooded male witches re-invent ‘Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble' as a sinister, macho drinking competition and who slide in and out of the other minor roles they double in with menacing, knowing leers.

Freya Alderson's Macbeth is immaculately controlled, moving from being flattered, troubled and pensive at the beginning to manically and fatalistically lost at the end. Alderson makes the verse work very well indeed and her ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow' is so freshly minted that your hear every word as if for the first time.

Also very impressive are Nathalie Barclay as Macduff, Bryony Rawle as Banquo and Charlie Ryall as Lady Macbeth. I liked Barclay's vicious anger, Rawle's fearless, contemptuous disdain at Macbeth's corruption and, above all, the way Ryall creates a Lady Macbeth who is clearly seriously ill from her first appearance. She is gritty, slightly twitchy, plainly dressed, does a lot of swallowing and never smiles.

So there is a lot to admire in this Macbeth, including some inspired fight sequences, but there are flaws too. A number of these young actors – almost all recent graduates of acclaimed drama schools – speak the verse so fast, in an ill-judged attempt at enhanced accessibility, that it becomes inaudible. Much more attention to voice work is needed in several cases.

There is also a problem with the gender reversal, interesting as it is as an intellectual idea. There are dozens of references to men and uses of male pronouns in Macbeth. Unless you change them all which would be a bit of bastardisation of our greatest playwright, it goes gratingly against the text to have women speaking the lines.

A more authoritative directorial hand might have remedied some of these difficulties. In general a ‘collaboratively directed piece' is a risky strategy and in places it shows.

- Susan Elkin