The first time we meet the Macbeths in Amy Leach’s production, they are mourning the loss of a child. Parenthood, progeny and posterity are at the heart of this new version of the Scottish play. Anxieties about lineage always haunt Macbeth, but here they’re brought to the fore.
Leach’s production opens with men being ripped from their families to go to war. The upturned chairs that scatter the stage suggest domesticity disrupted, as wives and children are left behind. In the crucible of conflict, a new sort of family is forged between Duncan and his thanes. In just a few brief scenes, these men become a believable band of brothers, making the bloody rupture of Macbeth’s betrayal all the more shocking.
Another relationship that’s utterly convincing is between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth – a partnership on which productions can rise or fall. Their scenes together radiate passion, tenderness and a fierce hope for the future, which pushes them to their murderous deeds. When first informed of his fate, Tachia Newall’s Macbeth seems startled by his own dark ambition, which gradually consumes him. As a pregnant Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, Jessica Baglow brings new shades to this character. Here’s an intelligent, striving woman who, if she must be defined by the role of mother, is determined to birth kings.
Hayley Grindle’s striking set design distils the play’s opposing elements: sky and ground, ethereal and earthy, vaulting ambition and grubby misdeeds. The stage is covered with dirt, above which rise metal towers topped with lights that reach towards the heavens. This space is dominated by a platform that raises and lowers to suggest blasted heath, castle drawbridge and the stage within a stage upon which life “struts and frets his hour”.
Like Leach’s taut production of Hamlet in 2019, this Macbeth is thriller-like and almost cinematic. Its driving momentum is only briefly punctured by a couple of lulls in the second half, when the action occasionally falters. The central theme of legacy is sometimes over-emphasised, and the witches aren’t entirely convincing in their otherworldliness. But while Leach doesn’t solve all the theatrical problems of Shakespeare’s play, she does make it newly compelling.