Shakespeare’s much performed, much studied and much loved “Scottish Play”, Macbeth, is the third in this year’s “Vaulting Ambition” season of Bard in the Botanics.

The play has been cut to ribbons to make it performable by such a small cast, but the performers give valiant efforts.

Some very interesting artistic decisions have been made for this production, and they have mixed success. The first is to set the entire play in a deserted nursery, thematically the one that originally housed the Macbeths’ child before it died. This idea works extremely well: Gillian Argo’s set design is highly effective, using drab colours and the natural creepiness of dolls to give an atmosphere of a slightly unworldly despair. It also, of course, places the entire play in the context of the Macbeths’ bereavement, and makes Lady Macbeth much more of a focus. In a play that is so often performed, an interpretation like this puts a rarely-seen and much appreciated slant on the whole thing.

Less successful is the decision to combine all three witches into one character and have them (along with various other characters they couldn’t cut) played by Robert Elkin. As anyone who has seen Elkin's Viola this season will attest, he is an excellent actor, but even he struggles to be more than generically scary under the layers of face paint he is wearing. Having him play all three witches (aside from taking three women’s roles and giving them all to a man) also renders the opening scene almost incomprehensible. A friend I saw the show with, who had never seen Macbeth before, hadn't the faintest idea what was going on for the first ten minutes. The concept here is that Elkin, in full face paint, plays all the bit parts, giving the impression of the witch stalking through the main characters’ lives unseen. It’s a clever idea, but in practice it is just confusing when he is obliged to deliver a very long scene in character as the old king’s son, Malcolm, while dressed as a witch.

The play has been cut to ribbons to make it performable by such a small cast, but the performers give valiant efforts. Emilie Patry is a strong Lady Macbeth, using the nursery-setting to bring an unexpected pathos to her role. Alan J Mirren also stands out as the old King, and later as Macduff, giving a good, solid performance as an honourable man. Kirk Bage's Macbeth leaves something to be desired: it has all the warrior strength of the character but none of the warmth that humanises him into something more three dimensional. The most famous speech in the play, spoken by Macbeth after his wife dies, is particularly disappointing in this respect.

In all, this is an interesting production that makes some bold decisions to compensate for tight restrictions. It has some valuable things to say about the play, but isn't particularly successful as a production.

Reviews by Grace Knight

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The Blurb

A prophesy is made – Macbeth shall be king – but the only way to achieve the crown is murder. Supported and encouraged by his wife, the deed is done but “blood will have blood” and soon their actions return to haunt them both.

Having ripped away the veneer of respectability and plunged into evil, this once glamorous couple descend in to a hell of their own making, their relationship and their sanity tested to breaking point in this tense, dramatic thriller.

A cast of five actors bring to life an electrifying new version of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and enduring plays.