DIRECTOR Ian White, a life-long lover of the theatre and Shakespeare’s Scottish play in particular, sees the Macbeths as a couple with “a mature and successful marriage” – indeed the only one in the canon.
As such, he says, the guilt and the blame for the murderous tyranny that they unleash has to be shared. In his production at Yeovil’s Swan Theatre, running to 25th September, White challenges the current assumption that Lady Macbeth is the evil, ambitious driving force in the marriage. He paints his queen as a loyal, loving wife, emphasising a softer characterisation with some judicious cutting of the text (perhaps also to keep the action moving).
The trouble is that it doesn’t really work. This Lady Macbeth (Sarah Easterbrook) is convincing as the wife who shares a fierce physical passion with her husband. But this is not the woman who says “Come you spirits, that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here.” The woman who encourages Macbeth after the murder by saying “a little water clears us of this deed” is a protagonist, driven by ambition, for herself and the man she loves.
What Ian White has done in this powerful and energetic production is to make much more of Malcolm, the murdered king’s elder son. So often played as a boring snowflake, Ethan Taylor’s Malcolm is a charismatic young man, a leader in the making, who makes his mark on the play from the start, and even manages to carry off with conviction the notoriously difficult scene in England with Macduff (Tim Clark).
Alan Morris’s Macbeth develops as the tragedy unfolds. We meet him as the bluff soldier, with his friend and fellow captain, Banquo (excellent Pete Fernandez). He becomes the haunted king who returns to hear more ill omens from the witches and finally we watch the tormented final hours of a bloodstained leader beleaguered in his fortress.
The witches are terrific – three sylphs in silver-grey, well choreographed, sinister but seductive, all-knowing and ever-present. They are played by Lisha Alle, Grace Pamplin, Paige Travers and (on the first night) Maria Allen.
The fights are convincing, particularly the brutal last encounter between Macbeth and Macduff. The murder of Lady Macduff (Elizabeth Lewis) and her children is harrowing – made all the more so by the agony of the half-hidden cousin (John Crabtree) who comes to warn her of the approaching assassins.
When a company takes on a play as familiar as Macbeth – you will be amazed how many quotes you recognise – the challenge is to find a fresh approach. With the outstanding skills and resources of the Swan Theatre and an experienced and talented cast, Ian White succeeds.
Photographs of Macbeth, Banquo and the Witches by Len Copland.