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Lew Baxter is left entranced yet thoroughly confused by Macbeth at the Anglican Cathedral

Published on August 17th 2007.


The choice of the imposing setting of the Anglican Cathedral for the Lodestar Theatre Company’s version of Shakespeare’s tumultuous rant about power, greed, madness and betrayal was inspirational.

Yet it was the very grandeur of the location that was the undoing of the first part of this tragedy: the cathedral’s great well, overlooked at either end by huge stained glass windows and majestic vast vaults that soar to the roof far above is an audio challenge at the best of times.

Perhaps some soul, unaware of the folklore around ‘The Scottish Play’, had dared to whisper the name Macbeth in a throwaway fashion within the confines of the cathedral. This old - but well subscribed - theatrical superstition dictates that such a production will endure terrible luck.

And so as director Max Rubin’s play began it was horribly clear that the performers could not compete with the cathedral’s own acoustic curse – the ten second or more echo that follows speech within its walls. The dialogue was soaked up by the sheer emptiness of the space and translated by a devious witch into ancient Babylonian – thus rendering it utterly unintelligible.

This was sadly a tragedy of its own as clearly Rubin’s interpretation is a class act, the performances from appearance alone fired with passion and enthusiasm while the backdrop of the towering staircase and hewn granite pillars of this wonderful building lend it an air of sheer magic.

Even for those familiar with Shakespeare and ‘the play’ it was hard enough to focus on the plot as the strain of making out even the occasional recognisable phrase or utterance became too much and the concentration wavered.

Again, this was a pity as there was energy and style from the eleven strong cast that surely made it an agony of denied anticipation as we tried to guess the words spat out with venom and with occasional dabs of humour – Rubin seems to have a great handle on the Bard.

This is the first of a planned series of plays to be tagged The Liverpool Shakespeare Festival that intends to be an annual event, and it bodes well despite this hiccup.

Then, as the action switched to the cathedral gardens for the final act, it burst into fiery, feisty life finally allowing the terrific cast a chance to show us their mettle. It became almost a mystical experience as the wind murmured through the trees and gravestones.

We shuddered as Richard Kelly’s marvellous Macduff howled against a stone mausoleum at the death of his family, gazed in awe as the witches cast their spells in the night gloom – lit by mellow spotlights that conjured up a spectral world - and nodded appreciatively at Simon Hedger’s increasingly unhinged Macbeth while aching to have engaged with Ruth Alexander-Rubin’s stunning Lady Macbeth in the first act.

If the company can resolve the early dire staging problem – perhaps all of it outdoors is the answer – then this Macbeth is a work of considerable merit that veers towards a memorable masterpiece.

Macbeth continues at Liverpool Cathedral until September 8th. For further details see website: theliverpoolshakespearefestival

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