Photo: Marc Brenner

We’ve been reviewing theatre for many, many years now, so – perhaps unsurprisingly – we’ve seen a lot of Macbeths in our time. Many of them have been of variable quality, and it’s been a fair while since we were impressed with a production. Thankfully Max Webster’s production at the Donmar Warehouse bucks that trend – this is a high-concept, modern take on one of Shakespeare’s most famous works – it throws convention out of the window, and it’s all the better for it.

The most overt difference is the way in which the audience listens to the show – when we arrived in the auditorium, each seat had a pair of headphones waiting, and we were told to wear them throughout. We were advised that the production ‘uses binaural stereo to create a 3D soundscape’ – it’s an effect that takes a bit of getting used to. Initially some of the effects and music seemed a little overdramatic and obvious, and it’s an unusual experience – it’s effectively like watching the actors mime along to a radio drama.

For the most part, however, it works extremely well. Whether it’s creating the illusion of birds flying overhead, or the witches existing as characters that are heard but never seen, or allowing our actors to utilise the full dynamic range of their voices – the whispering is particularly effective – the device genuinely feels like it’s augmenting the experience, and rarely seems like a gimmick. On occasion it does make the experience a bit less immediate – one of the joys of the 251-seat Donmar Warehouse is the intimacy of the experience – but on the whole we enjoyed this unusual addition.

David Tennant and Cush Jumbo are both electrifying in the two central roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. David Tennant manages to strike a fine balance – his Macbeth is both brutal and arrogant, yet we still buy into his tragedy. Cush Jumbo is brilliantly cold and calculating as his partner in crime, yet she is believably pure and virtuous in front of the other characters. They’re ably supported by a talented cast and there are musicians present throughout, playing traditional Celtic folk music, adding to the sense of time and place.

It’s an impressive production overall, one that speeds by in under two hours (no interval). The use of the 3D soundscape, and listening to the show through headphones, lends proceedings an almost filmic quality – this is likely to divide opinion, and while occasionally we considered that it was taking some of the immediacy of the production away, we thought it was an extremely effective addition for the most part. The whole run is near enough sold out, but they’re releasing standing tickets each day – if you can pick up a ticket, it’s well worth a visit.

GAY TIMES gives Macbeth – 4/5

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