Review: Macbeth at Leeds Playhouse

Director Amy Leach and Set & Costume Designer Hayley Grindle team up once more to create an accessible, inclusive and contemporary retelling of a classic story at Leeds Playhouse.

Macbeth sets his sights on greater ambitions once he believes they are within reach, thanks to the wild premonitions of three witches he meets. The more powerful he becomes, the worse his deeds become to maintain that power, with his ambitious wife Lady Macbeth often putting poisonous words of encouragement in his ear. This classic Shakespeare play explores themes of power, revenge and madness, all of which are extremely relevant today.

In this production, Macbeth is a man who seems tortured by his rise to power, almost out of control of the situation he finds himself in. Tachia Newall is a commanding presence as Macbeth, respectful and yet in ways fearful of the power-hungry Lady Macbeth. Jessica Baglow plays a manipulative, bold and heartless Lady Macbeth, though her decline into madness seems to spring out of nowhere with no inclination of her character’s potential for psychosis until we suddenly see her roaming the grounds of her castle incoherent and afraid.

Gabriel Paul has a bold stage presence too. His Banquo is perhaps the most ‘modern day’ interpretation we see on stage, reciting Shakespeare as if he were speaking contemporary English. I’ve seen Gabriel Paul play Trevor in The Play That Goes Wrong, and to be able to transition from comedy to Shakespearean tragedy is a real skill.

The set and costumes are relatively traditional – the play hasn’t been translated into contemporary times yet the cast speak with modern day Yorkshire accents. I think this works brilliantly, allowing the show to be accessible and easy to digest and yet with a classic Shakespearean vibe.

While it’s of course commendable for Leeds Playhouse to ensure productions are as accessible as possible, at times I can’t help but feel some sections do come across as a little forced – which is probably exactly why the creative team stress the importance of normalising accessible theatre, so it becomes a seamless part of productions rather than a stand-out feature audience members are consciously aware of. There are many school parties in the audience and it’s an extremely heart-warming thing to see younger generations growing up watching truly accessible theatre that reflects a range of life experiences.

Shakespeare’s classic plays have survived for hundreds of years, touching the lives and heats of many generations across the world. In this interpretation, Leeds Playhouse brings the Bard’s story to life in a fresh new way.

Catch Macbeth at Leeds Playhouse until 19th March.

Photography credited to Kirsten McTernan

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