REVIEW: Hasland Theatre Company’s updated Macbeth is a towering success

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Never mind the greasy pole, Hasland Theatre Company is extending three ladders to aid the social climbing ambitions of the Macbeths this week, writes Roger Green.

The metalwork adds an intriguing touch to the set for Shakespeare’s tragic and brutal tale, timeshifted from centuries ago Scotland to the modern day, yet in this production directed by Heather Davies lacking none of its visceral edge.

Characters in lounge suits and contemporary military garb are updated on the latest developments on the battlefield via breaking news on a video screen or a webcam chat.

Yet the age-old themes of ruthless ambition, treachery and murderous outcomes fuelled by superstition and a manipulative spouse remain central to the Bard’s narrative.

Steve Cowley gave his all as Macbeth, a performance dripping with emotion as his dagger dripped with the blood of King Duncan, the first victim of his homicidal quest.

At first wracked with doubt when Lady Macbeth sows in his mind the poisonous seed suggesting he should slay his master, her chiding him for not being man enough persuades him to take up the deadly dagger.

Even then, the weapon itself taunts him in a supernatural apparition, and after the deed is done, Macbeth is tortured by the stains on his body and clothing: “Will all Neptune’s oceans wash this blood from my hands?” he pleads.

Nicky Beards was chilling as Lady Macbeth, cold blooded and without a shred of mercy for the human targets she lines up to clear the way for her husband’s rise to power and to keep him on the throne as Duncan’s successor. Yet, sleepwalking, the stain of guilt shakes her to the core, as she rubs in vain to remove the ‘damned spot’ of blood on her hands, her shrill shrieks echoing round the theatre.

Matt Green, as the wronged king, showed all the generosity and statesmanship his envious subject lacked and he later returned to the stage in the role of Macduff, who would stamp his own mark on the crown’s destiny in a fight scene disturbing in its authenticity.

Shakespeare’s trio of witches were restyled as the weird sisters, quirky but no less sinister as their hubble bubble cauldron threatened to render lopsided the reptile world. Leila Hunt, Rachel Schofield and Carol Cooper took their strangeness to the limit as the threesome, easing Macbeth further along his descent into insanity.

John Fox’s Banquo was Macbeth’s equal, and loyal brother-at-arms before the latter’s head was turned by his wife’s wicked scheming, yet this good friend returned after death to haunt Macbeth as the madness intensified.

Macbeth presents a challenge for any company to stage, but Hasland’s 22-strong cast, aided by effective lighting, rose to it well, aided no doubt by those ladders.

The production rounds off the company’s 72nd anniversary season and closes on Saturday night. Call 01246 272271 or online at www.haslandtheatrecompany.co.uk