Dreams turn to nightmares in modern retelling of Macbeth

Scarlett Tynan-Morris reviews Macbeth at The Cambridge Arts Theatre

A contemporary new production of Macbeth sets the tragedy as a thriller in an ambiguous modern time.

English Touring Theatre worked with Shakespeare North Playhouse, Northern Stage and Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg on a new version of the play charting the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition on those who chase power. 

The famous story of guilt, ambition and murder is reworked – it is now set within the home of the Macbeths to display the domestic life of the power hungry couple. We first meet Macbeth when a video message from him is projected onto a screen. He is weary but victorious from the latest battle, describing to his beloved Lady Macbeth how they had won the war and that he was finally on his way home.

Two large screens flank the 1970s style set with a kitchenette/bathroom displaying the eventual murder weapons on the front of the fridge – as more blood is shed during the course of their pursuit of power, the number of knives reduced. The screens were used as closed circuit television throughout the production, with eerie footage showing different perspectives of the characters, video messages, and Macbeth meeting his fate. The dramatic use of sound really added to the unsettling vibe.

Mike Noble, a Liverpudlian actor cast as the titular character, plays Macbeth as a softly spoken, tormented soldier rather than a power hungry man driven by ego. His convincing descent into madness is compelling and unnerving.

Lady Macbeth is known as a ruthless, ambitious woman who wants her husband to be King and she his Queen. We first see Laura Elsworthy as Lady Macbeth in a domestic setting showing how there are different kinds of power – she encourages, cajoles and eventually berates her husband when he just will not step up and murder the rightful King. Elsworthy’s costumes are glamorous and ranged from a silk nightgown to a sequined evening dress, the clothing choices embodied the atmosphere at each stage of the production – from relaxed to celebratory and eventually, despondent.

An extremely memorable performance came from Leo Wan, who played the role of Ross. His comedic timing was on point throughout the play which brought some in much needed light relief to break the tension and you could tell how devoted he was to his character.

As the world continues to face power struggles and the devastation caused by war, this contemporary version of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays continues to feel as relevant today as it undoubtedly did over 400 years ago.

This play is a must see for fans of West End thriller 2:22 and Shakespeare, I would highly recommend making a visit it whilst it is still on tour.