Macbeth, Almeida, London <br/> The Plough and the Stars, Barbican, London <br/> References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot, Arcola, London

Hungry? Why don't you snack on the scenery...
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The Independent Culture

Simon Russell Beale already has a Hamlet under his belt. Scotland's murderous monarch is the logical next step, but judging by the size of him, Falstaff can't be far away. Beale is the burliest Macbeth I've ever seen. During the "dagger" soliloquy, he doesn't look like a man assailed on all sides by terrifying metaphysical forces; he looks like Edward VII after a particularly eye-popping dinner.

Simon Russell Beale already has a Hamlet under his belt. Scotland's murderous monarch is the logical next step, but judging by the size of him, Falstaff can't be far away. Beale is the burliest Macbeth I've ever seen. During the "dagger" soliloquy, he doesn't look like a man assailed on all sides by terrifying metaphysical forces; he looks like Edward VII after a particularly eye-popping dinner.

Does this matter? Well, Beale in no wise resembles a warrior of the Dark Ages. He looks like he's been sitting on soft cushions a bit too much. And surely a soldier would never casually gesticulate with his dagger the way Beale does. It makes sense after Duncan's murder, but not before. More damaging is his ponderous and prissy delivery of the early speeches. He'd chew the scenery if there actually was any. When he intones: "the multitudinous seas incar...na...dine", he could almost be Withnail's Uncle Monty ("I will nevah play... the Dane!").

However, things improve as the plot develops. Sexual chemistry with his wan Lady (Emma Fielding) there is none, but they do share a believable bond of the Fred/Rose West variety: whom else to talk to about these terrible things? And I relished the menacing way Macbeth kept eyeing up Fleance, disagreeably aware that Banquo's heirs, not his, will become kings.

Where this production particularly excels is in the supernatural elements. There's an atmospheric soundscape (John Leonard) of bells, knockings, spectral voices and enough hoots, cheeps, croaks and twitters to delight Bill Oddie. Rimmed with dry ice, the whole acting area is a magic circle; not a particularly original idea but one that is well followed through. The Porter (John Rogan) is a demonic imp rather than a flesh-and-blood servitor, and when Macduff joins with Macbeth in the final duel, he doesn't so much encounter him as conjure him up, as though the King is already half in the spirit world. And at the end, the weird sisters close in on their prey.

Silas Carson is so commanding a Banquo (he towers above Beale) that I can't help hoping someone gives him a crack at the lead role soon. With his 20 trenched gashes, he's all raw head and bloody bones, stalking the stage. It's well directed, with a few novel twists, by John Caird. But oh dear, the weary familiarity of Macbeth! Beale can leave as long a gap as he likes after "The Queen, my Lord, is dead" (and tonight it's a very long one), but we all know he's eventually going to say "She should have died hereafter," and might as well chant it along with him.

It's been a good week for soldiers and their wives all round. The Abbey Theatre brings shotguns, explosions, shattered streetscapes and snipers to the Barbican in The Plough and the Stars, Sean O'Casey's classic play about the 1916 Easter Rising. The production is part of the Abbey's 100th-birthday celebrations, and is performed refreshingly straight. It's a bit shouty and forced to begin with, but the performers soon hit their stride.

The action revolves around a Dublin tenement, formerly a gracious Georgian house, now filled with a motley assortment of characters. Chief among them are young marrieds Nora Clitheroe (Cathy Belton) and her husband Jack (Owen McDonnell). She has burnt the letter promoting him to high command in the Citizen Army, and when he tears himself away to lead his men, she rashly tells him she doesn't care if he comes back. Dramatic irony! Also in the house are Bessie Burgess, Protestant, much given to singing "Rule Britannia!", and her eternal antagonist Mrs Gogan (Olwen Fouéré), with her consumptive daughter Mollser (Laura Murphy). Eamon Morrissey and John Kavanagh are a wonderful comic double act as the old grizzlers Fluther Good and Peter Flynn, and Anthony Brophy is the comical idealist Young Covey, ardent Communist, disbeliever in Irishness and follower of the latest scientific ideas. The first act is light and playful, but dark shadows are already lengthening over the stage. All around, metaphorically circling Dublin, is a wall of detritus and mud, recalling the trenches of the war - the Great War - that is never far from people's minds.

And there's a sleepwalking scene. I felt about Belton's lengthy, crazed night-attire rhapsody pretty much what I felt about Emma Fielding's - that it was very impressive without actually being moving. The emotional high point for me was Bessie Burgess's harrowing apotheosis, the admirable Catherine Byrne demonstrating that heroism can come in the most unlikely, indeed unlikeable places.

One of the great delights of the Abbey's production is the authenticity of the accents, rendering O'Casey's voluble street poetry magic on the ears.

The leading lady's Hispanic accent in References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot is sadly not as secure. In the oppressive Californian desert, Gabriela (Liz White) waits for her husband Benito to return from active service in another desert. Now you do know that you should never fall asleep under the full moon, don't you? Soon Gabriela is having visions about the circling cacti moving closer to the house, her cat (Nathalie Armin) is hell-bent on miscegenation with a randy coyote (Nick Oshikanlu), and she starts up a conversation with the moon himself, a pot-smoking dude in a white suit (Andrew French), perched on a fridge.

José Rivera's play would be dull and pious if it were just about a woman's principled objection to her husband's brutal profession, but actually Benito (Alex Zorbas) gets a lot of great lines and good arguments. A magnificently tender sex scene - no lack of sexual chemistry here - contrasts with their furious arguments. Rivera's steamy and sometimes silly poetry contains more than a whiff of machismo: young Beau Baptist has to bring all his sweetness to bear on his role as a panting, sex-obsessed 14-year-old boy, and the Milky Way apparently shows where the Moon's whacked off across the sky. Aaaoww! as Cat and Coyote would put it. Aaaoww! Aaaoooww!

'Macbeth': Almeida, London N1 (020 7359 4404), to 5 March; 'The Plough and the Stars': Barbican, London EC2 (0845 120 7550), to Sat; 'References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot': Arcola, London E8 (020 7503 1646), to 5 Feb

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