Macbeth, Arcola, London<br></br>The Weather/Bear Hug, Royal Court Upstairs, London<br></br>Poor Beck/Tynan, The Other Place/Swan, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Birnam wood comes to Dalston

Stands Scotland where it did? The answer to Macduff's question is, in this instance, a resounding "No!" for, in Max Stafford-Clark's inspired Out of Joint production, the Scottish play has been translated to modern Africa with an all-black cast, apart from Lady Macbeth who is a white British ex-pat. This is one of the most thrilling realignments I have ever seen - partly because the performance is a promenade adventure with raw energy and fine detailing. The audience physically follow Macbeth's journey - from prized soldier to murderous dictator - through a warren of scarred, windowless chambers in this ex-factory building. We even become the "honoured guests" at the Macbeths' violently disrupted banquet. Most disturbingly, when Lady Macduff and her children have been audibly raped and hacked to death in an adjoining room, Macbeth's hired thugs make some extra cash, demanding our loose change as we queue to see the site of this carnage.

Stafford-Clark has done his research and the continental relocation works staggering well, without radical cuts and with few blips. Played by a pushy, brisk Monica Dolan, the fast-rising thane's wife is loosely based on the aid-worker Emma McCune who married a Sudanese warlord in 1990 and was darkly nicknamed Lady Macbeth. Danny Sapani's burly Macbeth also has much in common with Idi Amin, who was keen on witchcraft and wore Scottish army accessories after training with Caledonian officers. Meanwhile, the mêlée of soldiers and French-speaking witches dance ecstatically, flaunting AK47s, transvestite petticoats, fright wigs and war paint. This mix of machismo, weird sexual inversions, and voodoo is startlingly in tune with the play and evokes the strung-out combatants of the Nineties' Liberian fighters who believed cross-dressing gave them a charmed life on the battlefield.

Stafford-Clark is best known for premiering the work of contemporary writers. What's extraordinary is his Macbeth seems like a new-minted play. Almost every scene involves novel touches, and the acting is radically fresh too. Sapani and Dolan plan Duncan's assassination in modern conversational tones, urgent yet utterly pragmatic. Sapani also combines muscular bullishness with pauses for incisive thought and tenderness - a combination rarely achieved. Stafford-Clark has actually tightened up the play by compacting minor characters and keeping them in sight, and the fierce, triumphant drumming at the end is storming. Hugely recommended.

While Nature is said to be "troubled with man's act" after Duncan's murder, in Clare Pollard's play, The Weather, a teenager called Ellie is talking feverishly about storms, droughts and global warming. This time man's industrial greed has irreversibly ruined the ecological balance, and the elements are mirrored by a stormy domestic situation. Ellie's life is being wrecked by her mother, Gail: a preening but ageing poet and an incestuously predatory, depressive drunk. Ellie's fury is soon externalised in the form of a poltergeist.

This is part of the Royal Court's Young Playwrights' Season, and the writing is somewhat uneven. The author has two collections of verse behind her, but certain passages awkwardly yoke the poetic and colloquial here. As for Ramin Gray's production, Ultz's all-white designer kitchen has visibly been cobbled together on the cheap, and the director's stylisation is inconsistent. Half the time the cast pretend to pour drinks, half the time there's actual liquid. The poltergeist's antics are carried out by black-masked figures, like Japanese puppeteers, which is amusingly DIY but also disappointingly tame as glasses and toasters are carried through the air, instead of being actually hurled. Really the play falls between two stools: the satirical and the seriously ferocious. Still, the final scene is frightening and Ellie's apocalyptic fears capture the stress of growing up in these bleak times. Gray's cast are also admirable: young Nathalie Press's fuming, flame-haired Ellie; Jonathan Coy as her hopelessly passive dad; and Helen Schlesinger playing Gail as a magnetic whirl of egocentricity.

Presented by the same team, Robin French's first play, Bear Hug, offers striking parallels and surprises. Coy and Schlesinger (now dowdily fussy) can't cope with their dangerously depressed son, Michael. He has also surreally turned into a bear, with a huge snout and claws protruding from his sweatshirt. This is a short piece with a hurried conclusion, but there's something darkly wild and witty in the sick twists (involving munched limbs) and the absurdist dialogue ("Michael's gone. He's taken the Volvo."). Peculiarly enjoyable.

The RSC has also been staging a short New Work Festival: a pioneering, reinvigorating programme. Joanna Laurens' latest family tragedy, Poor Beck, is a post-apocalyptic rewrite of Ovid's myth of Myrrha, the incestuously infatuated daughter of Cinyras. The few human survivors of "the day the sky fell in" now live deep underground where memories of their former world and their civilised standards are disintegrating. It would be easy to pick holes in this highly poetic piece, but it's miles stronger than Five Gold Rings - Laurens' last play - and her elliptical imagery and scrambled syntax can be strangely compelling. Hers is an extraordinary voice that deserves nurture. The short run is now over, but the New York director Daniel Fish's avant-garde setting - a cavernous warehouse under an artificial sky of blue balloons - combined with assured verse speaking and intense, morally ambivalent performances from Greg Hicks and Sian Brooke as father and daughter.

Comparatively, Corin Redgrave's monologue, Tynan, is a bit of fun. Directed and co-adapted by Richard Nelson from the famed critic's diaries, it's really a string of sharp theatrical aperçus and shameless anecdotes about Ken's indefatigable penchant for spanking. In a quiet tour de force, Redgrave lolls in a chair, capturing the witty, bitchy, suave but also despairing spirit of the man. Sometimes trivial, often cryingly funny, this ultimately develops into a poignant portrait of a professionally struggling, dying man. It may, with luck, transfer to London.

'Macbeth': Arcola, London E8 (020 7503 1646), to 6 Nov; 'The Weather'/'Bear Hug': Royal Court Upstairs, London SW1 (020 7565 5000), to 30 Oct; ' Tynan': Swan, Stratford (0870 609 1110), today

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

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