Lyric Theatre, Belfast ***
AT THE centre of every tragedy stands a decent character brought down by an inherent flaw. But what is it that corrupts Macbeth? Shakespeare’s play, brusque and brutal as it is, offers a few choices within a combination of the supernatural world and a study in realpolitik.
A once-honourable Scottish general is initially reluctant to act on his foretold fate, but yields to the vicious encouragement of his wife and descends, finally, into a torment of power lust and conscience.
Recognising him as a slave to both vaulting ambition and toxic influence, director Lynne Parker’s striking production for the Lyric emphasises something equally important in stories of the occult and politics – the power of suggestion.
That may be why the first job promotion in this fluid staging belongs not to the victorious Macbeth, but to the “weird sisters”, played as sinister and uncanny harridans by Carol Moore, Eleanor Methven and Claire Rafferty. Often speaking the lines of other characters, as though prompting them, the witches drift through various scenes in the role of background functionaries, covertly pulling the strings.
That satisfies an abiding paranoia that unseen forces manipulate politics; something the production makes more resonant through a muscular Ulster dialect whose more surprising benefit is that the poetry rings clearer. One consequence is that there is a diminished sense of agency – Stuart Graham’s Macbeth seems fundamentally passive and sometimes barely responsive – but Parker’s emphasis on gender dynamics draws out the play’s own fascination. “Unsex me here,” commands Andrea Irvine’s steely Lady Macbeth and the play is in thrall to her definitions of manhood and potency: “When you durst do it,” she tells her vacillating husband, “then you were a man.” Significantly, the witches never speak for her. They don’t have to.
If such machinations seem as old and enduring as the Earth, Diana Ennis finds an absorbing correspondence in design, where her two-tiered set descends from a scorched plateau down basalt layers into lower depths, while Sinéad McKenna’s lights conjure up sepulchral spaces and elemental forces. Ennis’s costumes aim for timelessness, but instead resemble a trawl through the wardrobe of Shakespearean productions past, from frock coats to leather trenchcoats, and – for the Macbeths’ ascent to the throne – what might be borrowings from the MS winter collection.
The stronger motif, perhaps expectedly, is one of blood – the traumatic signs of violence on Rafferty’s costume, whose significance we learn later, the saturated face of Michael Condron’s dead and taunting Banquo, the distracted way Graham and Irvine regard their treacherously stained hands.
Yet your sense is not of a gory production – much of the action is curiously downplayed – and more attention is given to Paul Mallon’s stunned grief as Macduff or Graham, wild with invincibility, finally stilled into something resembling Macbeth’s former self when contemplating this tale of sound and fury. It may bleed out in places, but Parker’s telling is vividly and freshly realised, signifying plenty.
Until November 24th