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Following a successful regional run, Edward Halls production of Shakespeares Macbeth has begun a season at the Albery Theatre in London. And what a production this is! It starts with a bang (literally) and the pace never slows as we are plunged into the bloody fate of the title character.

Sean Beans Macbeth is first seen as a warrior, and this is essentially what he is a man who knows how to fight and kills in battle without remorse. But beneath the battle-hardened exterior there is a fiery spirit, anger, and passion. Speaking in his natural Yorkshire accent, which helps accentuate the timelessness of the famous words, Bean lets us in to Macbeths soul, and we feel with him. The banquet scene featuring the ghost of Banquo is particularly well acted and directed, as Macbeth alternately shies away from and is irresistibly drawn to the bloody spectre of his former friend. Banquo himself, engagingly acted by Barnaby Kay, stares accusingly at Macbeth as he moves silently around the set.

Samantha Bond as Lady Macbeth is also extremely convincing, feminine but strong which makes her descent into madness all the more harrowing. There is a lot of chemistry between Bean and Bond which Hall utilises to the full, and as Lady Macbeth stretches out her hand towards an invisible husband at the end of the play, we cannot help but remember the electric relationship the two had at the start.

Other standout performances include Julian Glovers double-act of the strong, gentle king Duncan, and the crudely drunken Porter. The latter was never over the top, instead playing to and for the audience. Mark Bazely convinced with the difficult part of Macduff, his grief over the loss of his family achingly painful to watch.

The fine performances were matched by an imaginative set and music used to lyrical effect in certain scenes. The fight scenes, a combination of traditional sword-fights and strobe-lit gun battles, were gorily realistic and exciting, and the timeless setting was helped by simple, stark costumes and clever lighting. This is an excellent production which at once fits into the reality of the 21st century, and the fierce feuds of the time in which Shakespeare originally set it a play worth seeing.

© Joanne Harris 2002