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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Macbeth

© Mark Fisher - published in The Guardian

Macbeth

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
3 out of 5

Liam Brennan is alone on the stage when, as Macbeth, he first mentions the idea of "assassination". The very word catches him unawares; he breaks off mid-sentence, looks nervously around in case he has been overheard, then continues sotto voce

It is the key to an interpretation that shows the aspiring king of Scotland not as a merciless warlord, but as an introspective thinker with little appetite for bumping off his enemies. He is more a Hamlet than a man of action - racked with indecision, his monologues measured, calm and reasoned. Allison McKenzie as Lady Macbeth is on the mark when she refers to his "heart so white", although her sleepwalking scene and his visions of the murdered Banquo suggest the pair have equally delicate psychological make-ups.

On the face of it, Brennan's is a brilliant, lucid, intelligent performance: his initial low-key approach allows him gradually to extend his emotional range, and his delivery is exquisite. He plays us Macbeth in an unfamiliar key, revealing the contemplative poet behind the power-hungry tyrant. This is fascinating, but it does make Macbeth seem too reasonable a bloke to warrant the ire of the whole English army. He is a politician who has made a few policy misjudgments, rather than a monstrous despot - something that lessens the necessity of his death.

This effect is heightened by Lucy Pitman-Wallace's staging, which attempts to avoid directorial gimmickry with an 11th-century setting of broadswords and sackcloth tunics. Not only does this come across as old-fashioned - the witches in their rags look like something from a 1950s drama-school exercise - but it negates the drama's political resonances, giving it the pleasant air of a BBC costume drama such as Robin Hood, rather than the urgent bite of a play for today.

© Mark Fisher, 2008

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