First Night: Macbeth, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London


Mind games and murder

There are no visible knives, gore, cauldrons or fateful letters. The witches are reduced to female voices that emerge from the silhouettes of the fully assembled twelve-strong company. Yet by the power of paradox and strong theatrical suggestion, Declan Donnellan's superb Cheek by Jowl version of Macbeth has a terrible and transfixing presence.

Like a cross between psychodrama and fierce, fluid modern dance, the production creates a creepily variable sense of time. There are transitions that move with the speed of a slasher's knife; episodes that seem to emerge from the foregoing scenes as though they had been eerily embedded within them like spies; and soliloquies that impart a sickened sensation of temporal suspension. The actors, in their uniform black t-shirts hurtle across Nick Ormerod's spacious, austerely bare set or freeze-frame expressively under the sculptural, noir-like lighting of Jane Greenwood.

For Donnellan, the witches are evidently an emanation of pre-existing guilty desire – visible to Banquo, too, because we all share the same susceptibilities, though some of may choose not to act on them. The production's emphasis is less on the victims of the Macbeths' evil than on the horror of being the Macbeths. For some, this will seem a whitewash of the Stalin-like behaviour of the hero once he becomes king. But Donnellan has listened to the poetry and presents the waking nightmare of the couple's lives after the initial murder and the unravelling of their marriage with a harrowing pathos. Wiry and highly strung, Anastasia Hille's brilliant Lady Macbeth is a woman who, from the start, has to override psychological fragility with a hideously strained firmness of purpose. With his compact physique and humane demeanour, Will Keen's excellent Macbeth shows you a troubled introvert who, in order to survive and preserve his sanity has to retreat into dreadful self-dissociation.

The physicality of the staging is always in the service of psychological penetration. There's a wonderful moment when Lady Macbeth welcomes the (here blind) King Duncan and their outstretched arms form a kind of threshold under which the soliloquising Macbeth ducks as if gaining entry to the next phase of his plot quite literally through a gesture of sheer sacrilegious fraudulence by his wife.

Though in the real world she is severed from him by her madness, in this production Lady Macbeth remains a presence to him. He delivers his later speeches of drained recognition directly to her, wheezing with ironic laughter and stroking her face until the announcement of her death when she matter-of-factly exits leaving him holding only air.

The drunken porter scene is enlivened in its violating comedy by the fact that here the porter is a squiffy female Scot in a tartan mini-skirt who has trouble with her intercom and insists on doing a security check of the visitors with a bleeping body scanner. Highly recommended.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama


Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living