mon 20/08/2018

Macbeth, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool | reviews, news & interviews

Macbeth, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Macbeth, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

David Morrissey's towering performance dominates an average production

David Morrissey as 'Macbeth': Every inch the soldierAll images © Helen Watson

Has the King of Knotty Ash been usurped? I saw him embrace Shakespeare and play Malvolio here just 40 years ago. I’m talking about Ken Dodd, more used to playing the fool. Now, another upstart from Knotty Ash is even more ambitiously playing the King of Scotland. I’m talking about David Morrissey. No fool he. In Macbeth he returns to the cradle of his birth as a fledgling actor to grace the last production at the Liverpool Everyman before it closes for a two-year £28 million redevelopment.

It all started for Morrissey when he turned up on spec at the Hope Street box office 25 years ago – and was pointed in the direction of the Everyman Youth Theatre. That fresh face now wears a grey beard (self-grown). A man of stature, Morrissey looks every inch a soldier, flushed with victory on the battlefield, lauded for bravery, screwed up with vaulting ambition, bedevilled by doubt.

His Macbeth has all that. He has a powerful presence and captures the nuances of the ambition that leads to flailing butchery before being reduced to a lonely, wifeless, friendless desperado with a head full of scorpions. He arcs his characterisation, ending as he began – brave on the battlefield, this time not victorious but killed as Macduff slits his throat.

MacbethWitchesDirector Gemma Bodinetz aims to wrest from Shakespeare relevance to the war-torn, disaster-prone world we live in, aware of events in North Africa, the Middle East and the rest. She sets it on a dusty, worn, flagged space against a drab, grey, shadowy, battle-weary building, the sort of trouble spot we’re used to seeing daily on the TV news. But that promise of relevance isn’t followed through or fulfilled. In that sense, her production simply doesn’t deliver and is certainly not edge-of-your-seat theatre.

The production is pretty conventional modern dress - and a bit of a mish-mash. There’s the odd Scottish accent, a handful of soldiers who look like renegades from the Red Army with their fur hats and the sort-of Middle Eastern concrete backdrop with a sliding barn door. And as for fighting wars, they are heralded by half a dozen sword-swinging chaps rushing through the audience and across the stage making a loud noise.

There’s a nod in the direction of technology when, for some unknown reason, the witches (pictured above, played by Eileen O'Brien, Gillian Kearney and Nathan McMullen) resort to warning Macbeth about Macduff via a laptop and a fuzzily projected image. This seems gratuitous – the witches are capable enough on their own. Their cauldron scene is pretty well done.

One advantage of the Everyman is that the audience is up close to the action and with the playing area being uncluttered, Morrissey is able to stride around. The scene with the ghost of Banquo (Ken Bradshaw) is particularly telling, even though the banquet is sparse in guests and fare. And the audience gasps when Macduff’s son gets his neck snapped and his wife is drowned in a puddle.

And what of Lady Macbeth? Refusing to refer to it as the "Scottish play", perhaps Bodinetz invited ill fortune. She lost her original Lady Macbeth when Jemma Redgrave opted out “for personal reasons” only a month ago.

Macbeth1Her place is taken by Julia Ford (pictured left, with Morrissey), who impressed me when I saw her a few months ago in Vivenne Franzmann’s prize-winning new play for Manchester’s Royal Exchange (and subsequently Lyric, Hammersmith), Mogadishu. Her Lady Macbeth is slight, tender, caring, endearing. She shows love and sympathy for her husband, making her own demise all the more touching as she sleepwalks and wrings her hands.

Bodinetz is certainly faithful to the text and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Shakespeare’s verse spoken more clearly and rhythmically than Morrissey delivers it. In truth, this is his show. Sadly, the production doesn’t present an emotionally charged, cohesive ensemble experience.

Still, this phase of the Everyman’s distinguished history, breeding ground for writers like Alan Bleasdale and Willy Russell, and for a host of actors including Jonathan Pryce, Bill Nighy and Julie Walters, ends with something to remember. One can’t help but admire Morrissey’s range. Could this be the same man who was so lithe and brilliant in Blackpool, singing “You Can Get it if You Really Want”? What an irony. Macbeth learns otherwise.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard Shakespeare’s verse spoken more clearly and rhythmically than Morrissey delivers it

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