Macbeth, Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

In the days of hack and slash video gaming, it is easy to forget just how terrifying an angry man with a sword must have been. It is not overlooked here. Stomping at high speed through the aisles as they hurry to and from the austere stage, the powerful Scottish warriors of this production are able to kill a child with their bare hands.

These were brutal times and to the most calculating and violent went the spoils. Demonstrating this so vividly is the great strength of Gemma Bodinetz's staging of Shakespeare's bloodcurdling exploration of ambition and conscience. Set in a timeless martial state, the atmosphere of chaos and encroaching warfare is brilliantly conjured through the soundtrack and lighting. A disconcerting flourish is the casting of a male in drag as one of the three witches.

So up close and personal do we feel that some audience members have a gory reminder of Macduff's grief-fuelled revenge to take home, on the sole of their shoes or the arm of their jacket.

Of course, many will come here to witness the return to the Shakespearean stage after 17 years of television's David Morrissey. He has admitted that such a long break has made the role of Macbeth a challenge. This is also the last production before the Everyman closes for a £28m redevelopment. For 47 years the theatre has been a proving ground for major talent such as Willy Russell, Pete Postlethwaite, Julie Waters and Jonathan Pryce – and Morrissey.

Fittingly, the former youth theatre actor's evocation of the haunted strongman brought low by a headful of scorpions as he wades waist-deep in his rivals' entrails is at times excellent - although perhaps not quite as good as the standing ovation afforded him by some of his more loyal female fans might suggest. However Julia Ford, brought in three weeks ago to replace Jemma Redgrave, seems strangely miscast as Lady Macbeth. She is feminine, poetic and certainly brave, but she is without the malevolent power needed to manipulate her husband to fulfil the hags' nightmarish prophecy. Together the couple seem to lack the evil sexual fizz of his-and-hers murderers, leaving a disappointing void at what should be the play's dark pulsating core.

To 11 June (0151 709 4776)

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