There are a lot of things you can do to Shakespeare - most of them bad. For actors, the standard trap is to slip into meaningless declamation: sound and fury signifying nothing. Directors, on the other hand, are apt to try to put their mark on the Bard by introducing a concept, be it a post-apocalyptic Macbeth or a sci-fi Romeo and Juliet set in a galaxy far, far away. It is odd that although he is generally held to be our finest playwright, the one thing that few people do with Shakespeare is trust him - and the audience's intelligence - enough to stage his plays without gimmicks or hooks.
In the slightly shabby venue that gives the group its name, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory stage Shakespeare - pure and simple. Not an auteur director's take on Shakespeare. Not a star name's personalised performance of Shakespeare. Simply the refreshing purity of Shakespeare's words and story, delivered with no bells, whistles or high-minded palliatives.
Just as a picture-restorer strips away centuries of dirt and nicotine to reveal the glowing colours of the original work underneath, so the director Andrew Hilton picks away the fancies and fetishes that are so often attached to Shakespeare, to leave a freshly minted text, set on a neutral backdrop of directorial restraint and craftsmanlike acting. This enables the onlooker to use their own imagination and to (re)discover that in terms of pacing and dramatic structure Shakespeare wrote less like today's playwrights and more like contemporary TV and movie scriptwriters. It is when the play is stripped down to the bare text performed on bare boards that the true timelessness of the drama in Macbeth leaps out most clearly.
That is not to say that this is a bland and featureless staging. But the touches that it adds are subtle enhancements. Macbeth and his wife (Gyuri Sarossy and Zoë Aldrich) do not need a plasma TV, his'n'hers video mobiles and a chrome cappuccino maker in their kitchen for us to recognise them as an ambitious executive couple caught up in the heady adrenalin rush of climbing the corporate ladder. Jonathan Nibbs's Macduff is a pleasantly prissy homebody, not natural hero material but a man driven into the hurly-burly of bloodstained politics by the atrocities perpetrated on him by Macbeth. And Rupert Ward-Lewis's Banquo has a praetornatural stillness even in life, as if the mark of death is on him from the start.
Now in its fifth season, Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory still offers the perfect opportunity for anyone put off Shakespeare by a bad past experience to see his work in an unadulterated form and discover why his fans rave about him. And for those already persuaded of his brilliance, it offers the chance to see how much more brilliant he is when his work is not being staged by people trying to dazzle the punters with their own rays of light.
To 13 March (0117-902 0344), then in rep in AprilReuse content