(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 14 April)
It’s a long time since I’ve heard such an intelligently-spoken version of Macbeth as Jactinder Verma’s new touring production for Tara Arts in association with Queen’s Hall Arts and Black Theatre Live. The Asian-flavoured staging, full of bear-foot stylised movement against Claudia Mayer’s stark metallic setting (adorned only with the changing portraits of Scotland’s fighting rulers) and accompanied throughout by Rax Timyr’s side-stage percussion.
The three weird sisters, all glittering saris and oiled beards, are played as hijras, India’s legally-recognised third gender community dating bak thousands of years. John Afzal, Ralph Birtwell and Deven Modha suggest a self-satisfying mischievous malevolence as they prophesy for Robert Mountford’s Macbeth and Mitesh Soni’s Banquo.
Shakespeare’s text is given in a very full version and its verse flows easily. Mountford’s Macbeth, a warrior nobleman hitherto suppressing – if indeed he ever has previously recognised – the ambitions which will leads him so inexorably to his destruction, is a marvellously full portrait. Shaheen Khan matches him as Lady Macbeth, all the more frightening because she never rants or raves at full blast; controlled menace in action.
Shalini Peiris plays Lady Macbeth’s maid, doubling as the porter (with a very funny “equivocation” monologue) and the doomed Lady Macduff. Birtwll contrasts Dauncan and the doctor while Modha takes on (with excellent contrast) the three sons – Malcolm, Fleance and Macduff’s heir. Umar Pasha is a stalwart Macduff while that thinking general Banquo comes over as quietly authoritative in Mitesh Soni’s interpretation.
Macbeth runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 18 April and at the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 28 and 29 April.