THEATRE / At home with the Macbeths: Richard Loup-Nolan on Macbeth at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Plus Sunset Song and The Marowitz Hamlet

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The Independent Culture
FULL-BLOODED Shakespeare production does not come cheap, so it's no surprise to discover that Michael Boyd's new Macbeth at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow is a co- production with Dundee Rep and Mayfest 1993. With these combined resources Boyd has managed to assemble a crew and cast of rare quality, headed by Iain Glen as the wicked Thane; and would seem to have every reason to be confident of the show's success.

This confidence is immediately discernible in every detail of the production, from Glen's first dramatic entrance to the vaulting ambition of Tom Piper's design, which transforms the Tron into the crumbling, high-ceilinged interior of a Scottish castle desperately in need of the kind of repair affordable only on a King's salary.

By stripping the witches out of the opening scenes - replacing them with children to turn the screw of Macbeth's conscience - Boyd focuses our attention on the breakneck speed with which the 17th-century Macbeths decide to murder their dinner guest. But Alison Peebles and Iain Glen do not rush the crucial exchanges before Duncan's arrival. Guiding us with clarity and subtlety through Shakespeare's dense verse, they re-discover the flawed, greedy humanity of the characters, so often masked in other productions by the cliches of weak He and wicked She.

From then on, the production goes from strength to strength, Iain Glen leading electrically from the front. Which is not to say that he in any way overshadows the rest of the cast, each of whom delivers a jewel of his or her own, from Andrew Dallmeyer's blind Duncan to Jimmy Chisholm's devil-gate Porter.

TAG's version of Gibbon's modern classic Sunset Song on the main stage at the Citizens Theatre was first produced in 1991. For this revival, the director Tony Graham has enlisted a largely new cast - Pauline Knowles and Michael MacKenzie return as heroine Chris Guthrie and her father John - and a new designer, Sally Jacobs.

Clearly aware of the central role played by the land itself in Gibbon's rural tragedy, Jacobs rakes the open country of North-east Scotland in furrowed folds of carpet back up the stage towards a great operatic sailcloth of sky.

Against this bold landscape of austere beauty, bathed nearly always in golden light, is played out the epic story of Christine Guthrie's struggle for independence in the years leading to the First World War. Alastair Cording's adaptation of Gibbon's 1932 novel is slow-moving at first, setting out the characters of the Kinraddie community in a series of rather static expository tableaux. The play soon acquires a stately momentum, though, shadowing the rhythm of the changing seasons.

Sentimentality has no place in this story, Chris Guthrie dismissing love at one point as a soppy English term, much inferior to the Scottish 'like'. The inner conflict between her English and Scottish selves, made much of in the novel, never finds real expression. Gibbon's passionate concern for a true Scottish language and culture is however powerfully embodied throughout.

Sunset Song falls very neatly into two halves, the first centring on the Guthrie family and the second on the tragic effect of the war on Kinraddie. Although very much an ensemble piece, it is Pauline Knowles who really lights up the play. The sunshine and clouds of emotion drift across her features as though across a highland landscape.

Perhaps as an antidote to these worthy classics, Malcolm Sutherland's sparky version of The Marowitz Hamlet occupies the Citizens' Circle Studio. Now nearly 30 years old, Marowitz's ruthless collage of Shakespeare's original still has the power to pin back your eyelids. Henry Ian Cusick plays an increasingly tousled Hamlet, going schizoid in a deranged Danish court where the Ghost is kept firmly in the machine.

'Macbeth' is at the Tron until 16 May (Box office: 041-552 4267). 'Sunset Song' and 'The Marowitz Hamlet' are at the Citizens until 23 May (Box office: 041-429 0022).