A contemporary take on Shakespeare’s dark tragedy, shrouded in madness and murder.

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From the off, it was clear that this retelling of Macbeth – a collaboration between English Touring Theatre, Northern Stage and Theatres de la Ville de Luxembourg – was going to be something different.

We were presented with a lacklustre apartment, with a large table and conference style chairs to the left of the stage and a glass fronted kitchen-come-bathroom to the right. A set of knives were ominously taped to the front of the fridge.

Lady Macbeth (played by Laura Elsworthy) is the first to appear, while a television hums inaudibly in the background. She restlessly paces around the green carpeted room with a vape in her hand and breast pump nestled under her satin dress.

After an uncomfortably long silence, her smartphone beeps. She then sits, curled up on a chair, while watching Macbeth (Mike Noble) sharing news of the prophecy that he will one day become king. We, the audience, share in this moment too, with the clip projected onto two screens above the set.

This is the first of many CCTV-style videos on display, capturing intense exchanges between the characters and those unruly fly on the wall moments; the ones we all secretly want to watch, but really shouldn’t. It’s also a clever ploy to give the audience a glimpse into Macbeth’s mind as his paranoia escalates throughout the play. 

ETT Macbeth at Northern Stage, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

The protagonist himself soon steps through the patio doors, clad in outdoor attire, as if he’s just returned from a hiking trip. Surely, this plain, unassuming character couldn’t be the future King of Scotland? And a soon-to-be murderer?

The sheer familiarity of it all – the setting, the clothing, the modern-day objects – contrasts with the more peculiar elements of the play. Malcolm’s rendition of Yes Sir, I Can Boogie (played by the brilliant Jasmine Elcock) is one such example. The cast menacingly striding across the stage in gingham dresses and blonde wigs is another. These all bring the psychological aspect to Shakespeare’s timeless drama to life – with a modern edge, of course.

Bagpipes are also a poignant addition. As a Scot, I’ve heard a fair few bagpipes over the years, but this was the first time I’ve seen them used to create such a foreboding, unnerving atmosphere. And it worked remarkably well.

Notably, the three weird sisters are absent from this production. But perhaps their presence would have been misplaced in this reimagined world of drunken parties, sequin dresses and camcorder footage. They belong to a different era.

ETT Macbeth at Northern Stage, Ross Waiton (Assassin) and Coral Sinclair (Lady Macduff)

For me, this bold dramatisation speaks to our modern times, with greed, power and ambition as topical as ever.

And I couldn’t help but enjoy hearing the North East accents of Duncan (Ross Waiton) and Banquo (Brian Lonsdale), which will go down a treat with local audiences here in Newcastle!

This performance at Northern Stage was impassioned and brutal, with the tension palpable at times. 

Having said that, my boyfriend left the theatre feeling underwhelmed, having craved a more classic interpretation of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, with its majestic castles, armoury and witchcraft.

A modern spin will always prove divisive, but if you like your theatrical productions to offer up something unexpected, then this one comfortably ticks that box with its disco ball, bagpipes, wheelbarrow and all.

Macbeth runs until 7th October 2023. You can buy tickets from Northern Stage’s website at northernstage.co.uk.


Images: The Other Richard