Latest Review – Macbeth [The Depot, Liverpool]


The Depot, Liverpool

Until Sunday 20th December 2023

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

To paraphrase Shakespeare’s great tragedy, something special this way comes, to Liverpool, where theatrical magic is being made inside the city’s new, purpose-built film and television space.

The Depot was launched in recognition of Liverpool’s popularity as a major filming location and Macbeth marks the first time one of the venue’s sound stages has been used as a dedicated theatre space.

Now fully transformed as a custom-built theatre, the creative team has converted the vast canvas into a unique and hugely exciting new space that evokes the dark and unsettling undercurrents of ‘The Scottish Play.’

From the moment we step into the venue we are immersed in the ominous world of this new production. Candles line the walk up to the venue entrance. The warehouse space is lined with black curtains hiding the secrets that lie in wait. When the doors open we are led through a war-torn scene of rubble and destruction; waves of smoke and dry-ice adding further mystery to the scene. A theatre of war firmly established. Inside, a custom-built 900-seat theatre surrounds a thrust stage where the main event will unfold.

MACBETH. Ewan Black, Steffan Rhodri and Company. Photo Matt Humphrey

Simon Godwin, Artistic Director of Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, helms this gripping revival with modern set and costume designs by Frankie Bradshaw that transports the action to a contemporary setting and adorns the characters in camouflaged army combat uniforms, sharp, tailored suits and elegant, Regal evening dresses.

The themes of the play are as relevant today as ever. Power, politics, tyranny. The instability of leadership and the desperate attempts to form political alliances. Close allegiances and subsequent betrayals. This contemporary staging takes reference from current global conflicts. Scarred rubble-strewn landscapes, scorched earth, barren concrete buildings. The supernatural elements are mostly removed. Here, things are very much focused on real-life trauma, the horrors of war and their developing impact on the psyche.

The action plays out against a composite concrete house set with a raised sliding wall panel and cased openings that form the various required locations. Godwin makes excellent use of the theatre space with a fluid and dynamic staging that has the actors moving throughout the auditorium and into the aforementioned backstage space.

With any thrust stage space there is always the danger of blocking sight-lines on the side-stage seats, though Godwin is clearly conscious of this and injects his production with plenty of movement and energy so no action is blocked or missed.

Slow-burning and simmering with tension, Godwin’s Macbeth is an inspired one. With striking designs and set pieces, this new production unfolds at fine pace and is filled with symbolic touches and little, theatrical garnishes. A sharp slice when the doors open, “brief” candles on the corners of the stage, blood running down the back wall.

Most importantly, however, it tells the story, and well. It delivers Emily Burns’ adapted verse beautifully. The dialogue feels natural and authentic, and the visual stimuli help further convey the story and underlying psychological themes. Jai Morjaria’s haunting lighting design is used to stunning effect to highlight Macbeth’s visions and hallucinations.

Having Macbeth suit up in full combat armour with explosions and gunshots blaring in the background and then doing battle with swords feels a little incongruous but it is perhaps the only questionable moment in this production.

MACBETH. The Depot. Photo Matt Humphrey

Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma lead the cast as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, respectively, and both are in magnificent form. When we first see them, Fiennes’ Macbeth is tired and weary, distressed by his experiences in battle. Varma’s Lady Macbeth seems timid and excited to hear word from her absent husband. Their transformations are beautifully rendered as the pair are slowly corrupted by the Weird Sisters’ prophecies and tormented by a relentless lust for power. The key lines cut deeper and are delivered with greater anguish and depth. Fiennes’ grows more muscular and detached as his true nature begins to surface; Varma, conversely, increasingly skittish and guilt-ridden by what they have done.

Steffan Rhodri as Banquo and Ben Turner as Macduff, two fine Shakespeareans, are particular standouts amongst a solid and experienced ensemble.

Godwin and the team should be praised for bringing this production to non-traditional theatre spaces and giving us something that feels exciting and accessible to both Shakespeare veterans and newcomers alike.

An immersive and exhilarating new production that presents Shakespeare at its most thrilling.

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at The Depot, Liverpool: Sunday 20th December 2023

For more information, and to book tickets, please CLICK HERE.

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