Review of Macbeth at The Leeds Playhouse

The Ancient Greeks first established theatre in Athens around 700 BC and believed that watching performances on stage was a civic duty. Citizens were in fact required to experience a range of emotion vicariously though the thespians, in order to face their own fears and ultimately experience catharsis through the dilemmas and resolutions presented to them.

Thespis was known as the founding father of tragedy during that classical period, and as a British Greek I grew up with tragedies, Greek mythology and fables, appreciating the moral lessons of the texts, and later, critiquing the characters and messages, in particular during A level English Literature.

It is well-documented that Shakespeare was inspired by Greek mythology and watching The Leeds Playhouse’s production of Macbeth last week, affirmed that, reminding me of anti heroines Medusa and Clytemnestra.

It’s important to acknowledge the overt misogyny of Greek mythology, and subsequently in Macbeth, as Lady Macbeth, is written as the instigator of her spiralling husband’s murderous ways.

This production makes her suffering clear however, and importantly, later, she feels confused and fearful of Macbeth’s growing ruthlessness and barbarism, thanks to director Amy Leach’s expert adaptation (Amy also directed the Macbeth’s premiere at the Quarry in 2022).

The magnetic Ash Hunter (formerly Hamilton in the West End) as Macbeth injects majestic presence, power and passion into the role and importantly, relatability, as do the rest of the excellent ensemble cast* with their regional accents, quirks, colloquialisms and mannerisms, modernising this famous with their nuanced and personalised performances.

There is a haunting musicality to the verse, as intended, with highly energetic performances by all (the dance-like sequences during battle, and the trio of witches, ‘working their magic’ in their prophetic scenes, boasted a hypnotic, cinematic quality helped by the almost pitch black, arresting stage, focusing your attention sharply on the dynamics between the characters.

A towering drawbridge would rise and fall, dividing the set, transporting you effortlessly from the frontline battles to the Macbeths’ bedroom and beyond and at times, simulataneously.

Hats off to both director Amy Leach and set and costume designer Hayley Grindle’s vision and execution.

Actress, Jessica Baglow brought a tender sensitivity to her reprisal of the role of Lady Macbeth; her confused, guilt-induced sleepwalking stayed with me long after the closing applause.

All of the performances feature creatively integrated and inclusive audio description which served to fortify the drama for everyone. 

Relieved to be having a therapy session the following day, the production ticked all of the boxes, it made me feel with a capital F, cry ugly tears and vitally, confront my fears. The Ancient Greeks would approve.

Disclosure: my father and I attended the press night and were kindly gifted press tickets and invites to the after party but all of my words are honest.

On 5-23rd March 2024.

A Leeds Playhouse production

Quarry Theatre

5-23 March

Press night: Thursday 7 March, 7.30pm

Box office: 0113 213 7700

Book online

*The cast also includes: Adam Bassett (in the photo above) as Macduff (A Christmas Carol, Hull Truck; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Love’s Labours Lost, Deafinitely Theatre; Hullraisers, Channel 4); Charlotte Arrowsmith as Lady Macduff/Witch (Troilus and Cressida, As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew, Royal Shakespeare Company); Benjamin Cawley as Ross (Dr Who and Shetland, BBC One; Queen of Chapeltown, Leeds Playhouse; Dunsinane, Royal Shakespeare Company); Aosaf Afzal as Duncan/Doctor/Murderer (Mrs Sidhu Investigates, ITV; BAFTA Award-winning series How to be a Person, Channel 4/E4); Paul Brown as Lennox (Groan Ups, Vaudeville Theatre; Potted Potter, Ireland & US tour; EastEnders, BBC One); Karina Jones as Witch/Gentlewoman (Much Ado About Nothing, Sheffield Theatres/Ramps on the Moon; Measure for Measure and As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Company); Shahbaaz Khan as Malcolm/Murderer (Road, Northern Stage; Doctors, BBC One); Daniel Poyser as Banquo (Nine Night and The Crucible, Leeds Playhouse; Much Ado About Nothing, National Theatre; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Royal Exchange); and Elkanah Wilder as Witch/Messenger (Galatea, Brighton Festival; Brassic, Sky Max; The Chatterleys, BBC R4).

Four Leeds school students have also been cast from the Playhouse’s Youth Theatre. Millie Soni, 12, a pupil at Allerton High School, and Kara Francis, 12, from Carr Manor Community School, have been cast as the child of Lord and Lady Macduff. Jayden Jhermaine Candala Seidi Dias, 13, from Cockburn School, and Josh Ndlovu, 14, from Trinity Academy, have been cast as Fleance, son of Banquo.

Read more theatre reviews here.

Photos by Kirsten McTernan.

Review of Macbeth at The Leeds Playhouse

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