Reviewed by Mark Brown
In her two years at the helm of Perth Theatre, Rachel O’Riordan has transformed the place from a bog standard rep into one of the most vibrant producing houses in Scotland. Already an award-winner – her excellent presentation of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer (a co-production with the Lyric, Belfast) picked up two prizes (including Best Director) at the 2013 Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland – she is now staging (in collaboration with Glasgow’s Tron Theatre) a vibrant and inventive Macbeth.
O’Riordan eschews the Aristotelian view of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, in which the titular Thane of Glamis is simply an ill-fated instrument of dark forces. Her Macbeth is a man of free will, the witches’ prophecy a mere setting off point on a journey in which he is propelled by inseparable lusts for his young wife, power and, increasingly, blood.
The youth of Lady Macbeth is crucial here; as O’Riordan points out, she would, in medieval Scotland, have been a young teenager when she married. Playing to her tender years, as Leila Crerar does beautifully, transforms the drama in an extraordinary way.
No longer is she a sexualised Iron Lady (Marilyn Monroe meets Margaret Thatcher), adding metal to the backbone of her weaker spouse, à la Harriet Walter opposite Anthony Sher in the RSC’s 1999 production. Here, absolutely convincingly, she is a wide-eyed, aristocratic schoolgirl who greets the promise of the throne with enthusiastic alacrity; all the better to emphasise her psychological destruction in encountering, for the first time in her sheltered life, the reality of violence.
If Crerar pulls off the powerful contrast in her character before and after the murder of King Duncan, she is equally adept in turning her, in truth, easily sexually manipulable husband towards regicide. The rapid shift in Keith Fleming’s admirably contemplative Macbeth, from loyalty to his King to a pledge to kill him, is explained by his palpable desire for his spritely, young wife.
Fleming’s rewardingly considered speaking of Shakespeare’s poetry, and his carefully gradual descent towards his psychological breaking point, are typical of this clever presentation. As is Kenny Miller’s premonitory set (black walls, huge, gaping windows and candlelight), which sits, like the production itself, resonatingly between the medieval and the modern day.
At Perth Theatre until October 5. Transferring to Tron Theatre, Glasgow, October 8-19. For further information, visit: horsecross.co.uk/perth-theatre
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on September 24, 2013:
© Mark Brown