Heaton Park, Manchester

‘Rain does not stop play’ reads the flyer for Feelgood Theatre’s production of Macbeth. Opening night happened to be one of the coldest and wettest of the summer, and after a day of near constant drizzle, Heaton Park had become Heaton Swamp. However, Feelgood actors are veterans of the ‘British summer’; the inclement weather not only galvanised the cast but also intensified the drama of the central character’s descent into madness. Never have muddy boots seemed so exciting.

Now in their 15th year, Feelgood have established a loyal following thanks to crowd-pleasing productions such as Wind in the Willows and The Wizard of Oz. By comparison, Macbeth – with its scenes of black magic, regicide and child murder – might appear an odd choice. According to artistic director Caroline Clegg, the play is one the fans have been asking for.

It’s the bard’s shortest tragedy, and also the most concentrated, with events unfolding at an almost hysterical pace. Over ten scenes, the audience witness Macbeth’s encounter with three witches, who prophesize he will one day be king of Scotland. Under the corrupt guidance of his wife, Macbeth sets about disposing of all who lie between him and the throne.

Actor Faz Singhateh delivers a perfectly modulated performance as Macbeth; flashes of insanity darkly illuminate his face, building into a helpless series of terrified hallucinations. He’s more victim than villain. Feelgood regular Eve Robertson makes a marvellously unhinged witch, part harlequin, part Clockwork Orange droog. Chris Hollinshead (Macduff) and Dan Willis (Malcolm) deliver solid, unshowy performances – models of bruised honour and measured dignity.

The production is ripe with vivid images: Duncan’s murdered body is loaded into a boat, set alight and pushed out to sea; Lady Macbeth (played by Clegg herself, a tad too sympathetically perhaps) roars away from her apartment on a motorbike. The final battle takes place outside the park observatory, the slaying of Macbeth followed by fireworks and a capella singing. Staged against the imposing North Manchester skyline, it makes for a spectacular conclusion.

It’s the involvement of Theatre under Fire, which elevates Macbeth into the unmissable category. This Leeds-based company was established in 2006 by artists who found themselves ‘under fire’ in their homeland of Zimbabwe. Their African dance and drumming give the drama a powerful dramatic pulse. That fifth star is theirs alone.

– Steve Timms