Review: Macbeth, Everyman Liverpool

“What’s done cannot be undone”

The Everyman Theatre in Liverpool will shortly be closing for an extensive three year renovation programme which will see the building being completely rebuilt to reinvigorate the already sterling work that the Everyman and Playhouse theatres have been doing for the last few years. The final show to be mounted here is a production of Macbeth which features the return of one of its prodigal sons in the title role, David Morrissey, a Liverpudlian by birth who trained at the Everyman Youth Theatre in the early 1980s alongside Ian Hart, Mark McGann and Cathy Tyson.

Originally cast alongside him to play Lady Macbeth was Jemma Redgrave but she had to withdraw due to personal reasons (one hopes that she is ok, that family has suffered enough hardship in recent times) just three weeks before the show was due to open, but fortunately Julia Ford (recently seen in Mogadishu) was able to join the cast and ensure this valedictory telling of ‘the Scottish play’ was able to continue.

Despite working with the RSC as a young man, this actually marks Morrissey’s first return to Shakespeare in 17 years and in some ways it shows. His verse-speaking is not particularly subtle but his grizzly-bearded presence fills the room and he owns the stage with a gutsy, physically commanding performance, tapping into the paranoia of Shakespeare’s character extremely well – his best moment for me was on espying Banquo’s ghost. Ford was competent as his bloodthirsty wife, a much more fragile interpretation of the role which emphasised the tragedy that lay behind her actions rather than the manipulative side: an interesting choice but one which doesn’t quite go deep enough, perhaps speaking to her lack of preparatory time.

There was interesting work going on in the ensemble from several of the players. Mark Arends brought a fresh-faced earnestness to Malcolm, making even Act 4 Scene 3 somewhat tolerable (which is a major achievement in my book!), aided immeasurably by Matthew Flynn’s charismatic Macduff. Richard Bremmer pulled triple duty as Duncan, a strongly comic Porter and a highly effective Doctor, sombrely dressed in Victorian garb and I also enjoyed Ken Bradshaw’s verse-speaking as Banquo and Gillian Kearney’s passionate Lady Macduff.

Francis O’Connor’s set was excellently designed, making the most of all the available space, using pools of water in the floor, trapdoors and staircases to great effect and lit beautifully and atmospherically by Colin Grenfell to create a dark and dingy world. Combined with Fergus O’Hare’s sound, the creative team did well but were let down somewhat by the lack of a singular effective vision from Gemma Bodinetz’s direction. Costumes seemed randomly plucked from a huge range of time periods and locations as if to suggest the universality of the story but this interpretation did not work particularly well for me: the witches’ premonitions being delivered by plasma screen was an interesting innovation but followed up by a sword fight, it just pointed up the confused artistic direction for me.

This is a dark and ugly Macbeth, earthy and pointedly human rather than playing up the supernatural elements as recent past productions have done. It is well done rather than innovatively brilliant but it did win me over with its forthrightness. It was lapped up raucously by a highly appreciative audience, I’d say it was more of a qualified success but a fitting end to an era at the Everyman.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3
Booking until 11th June

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