THEATRE REVIEW: Macbeth starring David Morrissey and Julia Ford at the Liverpool Everyman
FINALLY, the show we've all been waiting for opened at the Everyman. Not only had David Morrissey returned to play one of theatre's greatest roles but it would be the last time we would sit in those funny orange seats and watch a homegrown production.
At the end of my review I'll post links to some others so you can compare our viewpoints. Please add your own in the comments section at the bottom. I'd love to read them...
BREATHS were bated in anticipation for this collision of moments in theatrical history - Liverpool Everyman's final major show, before it closes for demolition this summer, and the return of David Morrissey to the stage where he first discovered his passion, and aptitude, for his craft.
With the weight of a city's expectation upon her shoulders, director Gemma Bodinetz had charged herself with a task of elephantine proportions - to present a play that pays tribute to the theatre's great past while raising the bar for its future.
Has she succeeded? Has she ever.
It took just a few seconds to establish a disconcerting atmosphere that built apace until Macbeth's foul murder of Duncan and the conveyor belt of slaughterings that follows it.
Shakespeare's theme of the unnatural pervades every element - a stage set already crumbling into decay long before the first drop of innocent blood is spilled; an elderly witch with the protruding belly of a pregnant woman; a soundtrack of white noise, dramatic chords and hooting owls.
Escheresque staircases climb into unseen rooms, drainpipes spew water and the scenery dwarfs the players as though they are mere pawns in a greater game.
Morrissey's Macbeth is commanding - there will be audience members left with dry eyes from feeling unable to blink during his performance.
He speaks Shakespeare's words as if they belong to him and as if iambic pentameter were his mother tongue - not a syllable lost between his lips and the listeners' ears.
His performance is emotional but never overblown - his portrayal of the bloodthirsty Scot shifts from straight-spined statesman to a fervent slayer, and he has real chemistry with
Julia Ford, who stepped into the role of Lady Macbeth just three weeks ago when Jemma Redgrave pulled out for "personal reasons".
Although her opening scene was unsteady, the Cheshire-born actor soon made the part her own - a fragile yet determined wife whose ambition appears driven more by an almost primitive urge for survival than a straightforward lust for power. There are moments when she even seems gentle.
This Lady Macbeth descends gradually into madness, rather than appearing power-obsessed one minute and guilt-ridden the next - her facial expressions saying more than her words as she is slowly broken by the rift that killing Duncan has driven between her and her husband. Her final scene is painfully wretched and difficult to witness.
The two leads are backed by a robust cast, almost all of whom have appeared on the Everyman stage before - from Eileen O'Brien, who acted under Jonathan Pryce in the 70s, to Shaun Mason, who starred in 2009's Billy Wonderful.
Whizzbang special effects - pyrotechnics, real flames and a digital screen lifted from an onstage pond - add to the drama, but with a production like this are pretty much gilding the lily.
If Morrissey's Macbeth is intended to set the bar for the new Everyman, future generations of actors will need a pole if they are to get anywhere near vaulting over it.
Five out of five stars
Other observations that I couldn't fit in my in-paper review due to word count: - plus I didn't want to give too much away:
I loved that the set and costumes - like the script and characters' morals - were different shades of grey. The only splashes of colour were the blood and Lady Macduff's jacket which was a beautiful shade of blue and reminded me of how renaissance artists would use blue in their paintings to depict someone of significance - the Virgin Mary or a patron. Gillian Kearney was a gracious Lady Macduff - the contrast between her gentleness and the sticky end she meets (which is so violent!) is really brought out under Bodinetz's direction. She's shown kneeling in front of her son and putting on his shoes with the care and attention of a mother - the same shoe that he is dragged off stage with as if he is a hunk of meat.