Macbeth English Touring Opera review: ‘a timeless tale of ambition’

PUBLISHED: 09:11 27 April 2019 | UPDATED: 08:18 28 April 2019

English Touring Opera's Macbeth. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

English Touring Opera's Macbeth. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

Richard Hubert Smith

From the moment the curtain rises to reveal brutalist ramparts and a lynched figure wearing a tie, it is clear this is a Macbeth with a distinctly modern flavour.

Madeleine Pierard (Lady Macbeth) and Grant Doyle (Macbeth) in the English Touring Opera's Macbeth. Picture: Richard Hubert SmithMadeleine Pierard (Lady Macbeth) and Grant Doyle (Macbeth) in the English Touring Opera's Macbeth. Picture: Richard Hubert Smith

The title character and his cohorts under King Duncan of Scotland are dressed in dark business suits, with a coat of arms on each left sleeve. The guerrilla-like soldiers around them carry AK-47s, M16s and other such modern weaponry, and the famous witches resemble wartime nurses.

Small details like a security camera, disabled by Macbeth's assassins at a crucial moment, make the transposition across the centuries complete.

This interpretation of the Verdi opera, itself based on Shakespeare's tragedy, ably brings the timeless tale of ambition, regret and self-ruin bang up to date. With a swift change of geographical references, it could easily be a story of the former Soviet bloc, 1990s Yugoslavia or post-colonial Africa.

The direction by James Dacre made the modernist Macbeth both a fulfilling musical experience and a moving piece of theatrical drama.

Macbeth is played by Grant Doyle, an Australian singer whose voice and acting were both excellent as he made the tyrant king's descent into madness thoroughly convincing.

He made a fine pair with Madeleine Pierard, as Lady Macbeth, whose huge singing voice and stage presence made her one of the highlights of the show.

Her utter domination of her arrogant husband was illustrated brilliantly as she seemed to tower over him both mentally and physically throughout their bloody rise to power.

Other highlights of the evening included Amar Muchhala, who gave a strong and memorable performance as the hero Macduff, with a flawless solo in the second half.

The music was as sweeping and dramatic as would be expected from Verdi, with the musicians well marshalled by conductor Gerry Cornelius.

This touring production by the English Touring Opera is alternated with shows including Waxwings and Idomeo, which were both set to be performed at the Norwich Theatre Royal on Saturday – and if Macbeth was anything to go by, those will be worth taking in as well.

The tour goes next to Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre, where the company will open with Macbeth at 7.30pm on Tuesday night.

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