Morrissey returns having conquered his craft, and having had a career a boy from Liverpool’s Kensington can only dream of: One Summer, Red Riding, State of Play, Robin Hood and -yes - the Doctor Who Christmas Special. He has even played a future prime minister for pity’s sake. So what a triumphant homecoming, to return to the Everyman 25 years later for the very last production on its stage before it is no more – or at least before it undergoes a £28m refurbishment – and to bestride his home stage as Macbeth.
Morrissey’s Macbeth is a man’s man, very present and very solid, and the actor brings his full range of talents to bear. He is a man quickly seduced by his ambition, and hardly needs the influence of his wife to encourage him. His equivocation reveals a layer of decency, but you get the feeling he was always going to be a victim of his own aspiration. This is a departure from many productions where Macbeth is almost the victim of his wife, and perhaps gives him less of a development arc than other Macbeths. Nonetheless, Morrissey certainly finds his moments, and is particularly good in the banquet scene – you can simultaneously believe that he really sees Banquo’s ghost, and that he is going totally mad and seeing ‘the painting of his fear’; quite a trick. Supporting him, Julia Ford’s Lady Macbeth is from the outset brittle and strung out, strong and demanding but always on the edge. This is a very nicely judged performance, and she brings a freshness and an intensity to speeches that are difficult to tackle because they are so well known; her ‘milk of human kindness’ and her ‘out damn spot’ are heartfelt and as if newly coined.
While a lot of focus is inevitably on the leads, this really is an ensemble production with a superb supporting cast. Ken Bradshaw as Banquo has so much presence you know he’s on stage even if you’re not at the theatre. It would be great to see him be given one of Shakespeare’s great leads in the future, he is more than ready. For that matter I’d love to see the older Eileen O’Brien play Lady Macbeth, although I fear that is too brave an idea. Richard Bremmer is the tallest, thinnest, gentlest and most dignified Duncan I have seen, and later provides an amazing comic turn as the Porter as if dreamt by Beckett, and, later again, a most Dickensian doctor. Neil Caple, in the best performance I’ve seen him give, really makes sense of Lennox. Mark Arends, Syrus Lowe and Gavin Marshall all deserve a mention, as does Nathan McMullen as the young Fleance. But Matthew Flynn as McDuff provided the moment of the show for me in his reception of the news of his family’s slaughter at the tyrant’s hands; his repeated, unbelieving questioning was plaintiff, and his ‘All my pretty ones?’ broke my heart.
The production is incredibly clear and at the end I could hear people around me express their surprise at being able to understand it, and this is a real testament not only to Shakespeare but to the performers and to director Gemma Bodinetz. Conceptually, I was less sure. The play opens with the witches leant over a giant map of Scotland, moving military figures with a relish reminiscent of some Harryhausen Greek gods playing with our lives. The set is a post industrial, Mad Max landscape, and there is effective use of multimedia in the scene where the witches conjure up demons. Costumes are timeless although they sometimes nod towards a particular country. I don’t mind this sense of any-place-any-time-so-it’s-relevant-now-and-forever, but it didn’t help an occasional lapse in coherence of style and ultimately fed into a slight lack of full engagement. What did come across to me though for the first time is the sheer masculinity of the play; uniquely, it seemed to me to be about what it means to be a man, to fight as a man, to seek power as a man, to kill and to grieve and to fear as a man, rather than a focus on the masculinity of a manipulative woman. And that was refreshing.
So. A triumphant homecoming? Certainly. And an excellent end to what is an astonishing era for this theatre. It is fabulous to see it close on a show that is ensemble and that uses the black box of the Everyman so well, capitalising on entrances and exits through the audience, expanding the space and then contracting it again with the intimacy this auditorium does better than anywhere. It is one of my favourite theatres for many reasons and I will be sad to see it go – to be honest I still haven’t got over them removing the mirrors on the stairs. But I wish it very well for the future. The Everyman is dead. Long live the Everyman.
Maria Barrett @mariabarrett
Macbeth contines at the Liverpol Everyman (long may she reign) until the 11 June - Please see the website for details.