Macbeth. Northern Broadsides, directed by Barrie Rutter. At the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, April, 2002.
Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University

Hopkins, Lisa. "Review of Macbeth." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.1 (May, 2002): 14.1-3 <URL:

Design by Jessica Worrall, lighting by Kay Packwood. With Rachel Jane Allen and Úna McNulty as Witches, Catherine Kinsella as Witch and Fleance, Tim Barker as Duncan / Porter / Doctor, Adam Sunderland as Malcolm, Richard Standing as Macduff, Matthew Booth as Donalbain / Murderer, Richard Hollick as Sergeant / Murderer, Jason Furnival as Ross, Tom Silburn as Lennox, Andrew Pollard as Banquo, Andrew Vincent as Macbeth, Helen Sheals as Lady Macbeth, Dennis Conlon as Servant / Percussionist / Seyton, Roger Burnett as Servant / Percussionist, Bryony Rose Rutter as Servant, and Barrie Rutter as Hecate.

  1. Northern Broadsides are distinguished more by ensemble playing than by individual star performances, and their latest production, Macbeth, is no exception. Their biggest name, Barrie Rutter, directs, and appears on the stage only as a rather gratingly jovial (and appropriately regendered) Hecate. Rutter leaves the far meatier role of Macbeth to Andrew Vincent, while Helen Sheals takes Lady Macbeth. Vincent delivers in spades on Macbeth's menace. He is a big, bearded man, and has a concomitantly big, booming voice, excellently able to convey aggression, as when he turns on the hapless messenger who informs him that Birnam Wood is moving. Anything subtler, however, is beyond him; there is no sense of any wasted potential in this Macbeth, because he is more thug than decent man tempted.

  2. Other things which one might have expected to find in a production of Macbeth are also absent. For one thing, there is no interval. The programme announces that the entire play will be done in an hour and three quarters (a speed achieved mainly by vigorous cutting, including the excision of the murder of Macduff's wife and children); in fact it took two hours on the night I saw it, but still felt fast and furious. Also, Lady Macbeth's reference to having given suck is delivered unemotionally, and arouses no obvious concern or resonance in Macbeth. There is, therefore, no sense that either their relationship or their ambition has been configured by the loss of a baby. This is fine in itself - this is by no means the only possible motivation for either of the Macbeths - but there is nothing really supplied in its place: these are people who just want the crown because they want it, and have neither the ethics nor the imagination to grasp that usurping it may have undesirable consequences. The lack of any special significance in Lady Macbeth's line felt, therefore, more like a gap than a choice.

  3. Much more successful was the set. At the centre of the Quarry Theatre's big stage was a square area filled with a rough red carpet and surrounded by four poles of unequal heights, one at each corner. It looked as though it had been cordoned off for combat, but it was also used for the witches, who were all dressed in material of similar texture and colour and were thus able to use the carpet for camouflage, virtually disappearing into it. It sat like a pool of blood in the middle of the stage until the scene in the English court, when Malcolm placed a vivid blue cloth at its centre as if to offer a visual emblem of the change to come. Apart from this scenery and props were minimal: the four stools used in the banquet scene were pushed together to make the cauldron, and Barrie Rutter's Hecate did duty as all the apparitions. The dagger was strictly of the mind, though Banquo's ghost took physical (and very bloody) shape. At the end, Macbeth was forced against one of the four posts and the stage was plunged into darkness, with only his head sharply and rakingly lit to suggest that it had been decapitated. Music was provided by the various members of the cast, with a leitmotif of African drumbeats for the witches. The pared-down approach helps maximise the speed of this lively production, but it is a pity that the reductionism has also applied to the question of the characters' motivation.


Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2002-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).