Paul T. Davies reviews Macbeth, presented by Colchester Theatre Group, at the Headgate Theatre.

These days, you don’t have to wait long before another Macbeth comes off the Bard taxi rank. 

Here, visionary director Lorraine Haworth sets the play within the corridors of Westminster, the political backstabbing brought to life, the king being replaced by the struggle to become Prime Minister. As with all ambitious imaginings like this, there are gains and losses, and what a coup to stage it the week the General Election is called! 

The witches are the media, much like Protocol’s production a few years ago, and the ending is perfectly reflective of our times as Malcolm ascends to the lectern. However, with such simple staging, the play lacks a sense of location, certainly any feeling that it is rooted in Scotland, and there’s little sense of time and story arc in the costumes and set. But this is balanced by many scenes that work incredibly well, particularly, for example, the blasted heath becoming the Heath pub, with 1970s Prime Minister Ted beaming from the signpost!

It’s a large cast, and although it was a nervous first night, they commit fully to the concept. Matthew Hankin is a strong presence as Macbeth but felt a little underpowered on the first night. I was also perturbed that he never changes his suit, not even removing any of it to murder Duncan or to change into bed wear, thus affecting, for me, the development of his journey into tyrant. Mairead Ladyman is an effective Lady Macbeth, again a little underplayed at first, but growing in character until she performs an excellent mad scene. 

There are a host of fine local actors: Adam Duarte Dias, an earthy Banquo; Kirsty Bryant, a brief but memorable Lady MacDuff; Anthony Roberts, a conniving Ross; and Sarah Ellen Young, channelling Thatcher as Malcolm, biding her time till power becomes hers. Best of all is James Potter as reluctant warrior MacDuff, devasted by the murder of his family, his Northen spirit knowing he must avenge them, yet terrified. This gives a new angle to his final confrontation with Macbeth, which is excellent here, and the concept really shines.

I felt it was a typical first night, with many scene changes that slowed the action a little, and the cast needed to enter and exit the stage with much more vigour and purpose. At times, they strolled when they needed to be fleeing a battle. But having Lady Macbeth warning Lady Macduff to flee, hence witnessing the murders and pushing her into madness, was one of many inspiring moments. It’s never less than interesting, bold, and ambitious and throws new insights into a tale often told. It got my vote!