Macbeth. Playhouse, Derby. <br></br>Romeo And Juliet, Repertory Theatre, Birmingham

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The Independent Culture

As a relief from dry ice - and a gloriously grim and ghoulish banquet ghosting - we encounter Craig Purnell's pearl of a Porter: a side-splitting, genital-obsessed tour de force that helps to turn this show around. Till the crowning, Brian Protheroe's Macbeth sounds, frankly, a bit of a wimp. He moves abysmally, speaks and gestures flatly. Yet put a metal circle on his head and he transforms. Protheroe's second half is genuinely good: he shows a real cocky nastiness.

Aoife McMahon's Lady Macbeth also launches ropily. Her letter scene, all actorial gestures, wouldn't earn her a place in drama school. She, too, picks up - by "infirm of purpose", we can believe she might have wielded the dagger herself - but, arguably, the real stars are Matt McKenzie's sound score and Martin Allen's subliminally nasty background thrumming.

Youth should have been on the side of Bill Bryden's staging of Romeo and Juliet for Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Alas, this production was a damp squib. Hayden Griffin's spare, open stage, blandly lit by John Harris, placed too heavy a premium on moves: only the rather effective balcony sequence and final vault scene lent variety.

The main pleasure of this youthfully naive, speak-it-from-the-heart production was Carla Henry's impassioned Juliet. She commands a stage with assurance, exudes tenderness, and found purpose in her moves. You could believe that she was just 13.

Jamie Doyle may be a Romeo in the making, but he proved rather a wet rag here. It's hard to believe Rosaline, let alone Juliet, saw much in him. Yet in the death scene Doyle nearly came good: that missing vital spark briefly peered through. Anatol Yusef, however, was a promisingly imaginative Mercutio.

'Macbeth' to Saturday (01332 363275); 'R&J' to Saturday (0121-236 4455), then touring

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