A gripping and exciting Macbeth, but a lot more Scottish!

REVIEW: Macbeth, Lantern Theatre, Sheffield.By Phil Turner
THE SISTERS: (left to right) Hope Baxter, Joe Isingoma and Viv Mager.THE SISTERS: (left to right) Hope Baxter, Joe Isingoma and Viv Mager.
THE SISTERS: (left to right) Hope Baxter, Joe Isingoma and Viv Mager.

GANG ward in the 1950s is the setting for this gripping blood-spattered Macbeth.

A sign above a shop window bearing the words “Macbeth Butchers” is a clear indication of what is to follow from the Dilys Guite Players.

This exciting version of the Scottish Play is, well, a lot more Scottish. Think Irving Welsh or William McIlvanney's crime noir tales annotated by - for the first time in my experience - the cast adopting bold Scottish accents to brilliant dramatic effect.

Jack Hewitt, armed with a gun in his suited mobster clothes, totally convinces as Macbeth. He's a compelling presence, displaying a genial frailty before his life unravels, sent mad in a bloodlust for power, as he spits out many of Shakespeare's most famous lines, peppered by colloquial inflections. He makes each soliloquy his own, in contrasting tones. A tortured soul who desperately wants to believe the prophecies he gradually realises are no more than smoke and mirrors.

Like Welsh's characters, there's as much going on in their heads as in the bloody scenes. But it's words and action that count. Not least with Lady Macbeth.

Rachel Gray, as Macbeth's soulmate brings out all the nuances of a truly tragic figure, cold, calm and calculating to start as she encourages Macbeth to murder. She then falls apart in a heap of nightmarish guilt as the loving couple seem to descend into the opposite of their previous selves.

The sleepwalking scene is touchingly done, helped by a tremendously wry performance as the doctor by Andrew James Hodgson (also notable as Macbeth's servant Seyton) reeling aghast in shock and awe. “Out, out brief candle.”

Immaculately directed by Hannah Pamplin, assisted by Christy J Stanley - doing an amazing job as accent coach - the edginess and mystery are to the fore. Staging and technicals at their usual top notch.

Ciaran Ryan as Macduff grows in stature after his family is slaughtered, to offer an authentic counterweight to the anarchic violence, ably assisted by Matt Hutchinson as Malcolm.

Noa McAlistair stands out as Macbeth's doomed close confidant Banquo, creating an intense physical presence as the ghost in the banqueting scene.

The three sisters, glittering Joe Isingoma, who never puts a shimmer wrong, delightfully mischievous Viv Mager - mini-sister in hand and never an eyebrow out of place - and the droll Hope Baxter, milking every comic pause, put a spell not just on Macbeth but the whole audience - despite coping with a little technical glitch in the hubble-bubble department.

And Alex Wilson gives a "knockout" comic turn as the larger than life porter, imbuing every last lewd syllable with its full potential.

The whole cast, many playing more than one role, were outstanding with Tim Baron doing a fine job portraying Duncan as a gangster boss, Amy Gunn as Lady Macduff, India Cottiss (Macduff child and murderer), Christy j Stanley (Angus), Beth Marsden (captain and Lady Macbeth's servant).

Dynamic and psychological, Shakespeare's play reflects a changing world - providing food for thought as it poses questions about barbarism or a future that all can hopefully share in.