Stage Review – MACBETH at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, UK

This Macbeth is both tangible and imaginative. It is the result of a well planned and well thought out creative process involving a variety of art forms, mainly contemporary, yet the fantastical and the gorgeous insanity of Macbeth remains comfortably (or uncomfortably) apparent, depending on your viewpoint!

John Heffernan is a Macbeth of the first order. We see that he is up for the fight. We see him relish his hero status and his new popularity, and we see him being easily persuaded to engage in a deadly conspiracy. We are witness to him becoming a narcissistic and a murdering power-crazy; we see him lose his grip, and know that he is the main cause of such miserable chaos, all in a two hour straight-through performance in which he shines as Macbeth. Heffernan has a clear and rich toned voice and he is an exceptional stage actor.

John Heffernan (Macbeth) and Anna Maxwell Martin (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith (2)
Figure 1: John Heffernan (Macbeth) and Anna Maxwell Martin (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth

Anna Maxwell Martin, arguably better known for her high profiled TV and Film work, plays Macbeth’s brow beating instigator and partner in crime just the way as she herself says so in an interview. Martin says she serves the play and simply plays the text. This she does so very capably; nevertheless, I felt her Lady Macbeth should have been pushier, and more malevolent, especially in early scenes. Martin’s performance however, is extremely polished and she plays a blinder around the fabulous dark and scary ACT II SCENE II.

Clemmie Sveaas, Jessie Oshodi and Ana Beatriz Meireles in Macbeth. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith
Figure 2 – The three Witches, Clemmie Sveaas, Jessie Oshodi and Ana Beatriz Meireles in Macbeth

The two main actors mentioned are supported by a talented cast and all roles are key. Even minor characters in the play, named as Porter and Murderer (as described in the cast list), are often present alongside three other professional dancers (the three Witches), in zombie-like dance sequences where they move rigidly, their bodies contort and convulse, and these moves they intersperse with bursts of dancing to high energy music in the form of high leaps, sharp turns and full body stretches. These act as lively inserts.

My son was my theatre buddy last night at Birmingham’s Repertory Theatre. He has not seen as much theatre as me, but the number of stage shows he has seen are now mounting up. He said that this Macbeth was the most professional production he’s seen to date, and we were in agreement that the funnel-like set was pretty spectacular. We loved the austere setting, and thought that the long people shadows cast on the panels at the wide end added to the drama and made the chilling moments, even more chilling, especially when Macbeth creeps toward the side wall with dagger in hand.



Anna Maxwell Martin – Lady Macbeth (TV’s Bleak House, Baby Cow Films, National Theatre)

John Heffernan – Macbeth (RSC, National Theatre, BBC)

Thomasin Gulec – Murderer (Rambert)

Ira Mandela Siobhan – Porter (Warner Bros, National Theatre)

Ana Beatriz Meireles , Jessie Oshodi, Clemmie Sveaas (three Witches/Children)

Prasanna Puwanarajah – Banquo (Working Title/Sky1/NBC, Arcola Theatre)

Nicholas Burns – Duncan/MacDuff (BBC Films, Working Title, West End)

Mark Ebulue – Ross (Arcola Theatre, RSC, BBC)

Ben Lamb – Malcolm (Sheffield Crucible, BBC)

Cassie Layton – Lennox/Lady MacDuff (Universal Pictures, BBC radio)

Photography by Richard Hubert Smith

Reviewer, Debra Hall attended the press night performance of MACBETH at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Tuesday 26 January 2016. A repeat of this publication appears online at Remotegoat Stage



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