Macbeth review – Leeds Playhouse ★★★☆☆

Jessica Baglow (Lady Macbeth) and Ash Hunter (Macbeth). Photo: Kirsten McTernan

Leeds Playhouse’s Macbeth returns to the theatre’s Quarry Stage following a previous run in 2022. Directed by Amy Leach, this Macbeth is full of sound and fury – it’s matched by a set, designed by Hayley Grindle, that marries grit and steel, with a ramp dominating the centre stage, rising to create a platform for those in power to survey their world.

Jessica Baglow returns as Lady Macbeth alongside Hamilton and Wuthering Heights alumni Ash Hunter as the titular Macbeth, with both leads delivering stunning performances. A tweak to the text that sees the couple losing a child at play’s opening, and Lady Macbeth expecting another as the action gets underway adds depth to their relationship and raises the stakes of Lady Macbeth’s later prayers to the spirits.

Where Leach’s production adds to the text, it also strips it back to its core, with some minor characters lost, though not missed, along the way. This should allow more space for the relationship between the couple and to explore their developing motives and actions. Instead, the space is soaked up by action sequences that are explosive and visually impressive without really adding much. However, given that the production is marketed as being suitable for KS4 students, with a range of accompanying resources to support and enhance students’ understanding of our productions, the almost-Netflix/HBO-style approach to these scenes (think Games of Thrones or The Witcher) does provide an attractive launchpad for students into Shakespeare and the wider world of theatre. The motive seems to be to entertain and educate.

Ash Hunter, centre, as Macbeth. Photo: Kirsten McTernan

The production also targets inclusivity through considerable use of sign language and the casting of deaf actors in the main cast, with Adam Bassett and Charlotte Arrowsmith as Macduff and Lady Macduff (Katrina Allen covered the latter role on press night), with both Bassett and Arrowsmith acting as British Sign Language (BSL) Consultants alongside Sarah Box as Lead BSL Interpreter and a wider BSL Interpreting Team and Benjamin Wilson acting as an Audio Description Consultant.

It’s a welcome move, one that should be acknowledged, however, the integration of BSL into the play feels confused at times and a little unclear as to the intention behind some of the choices. It is perhaps a reflection that this is currently novel within theatre that the method hasn’t fully been worked through yet but with this being a returning production, you might expect it to feel more fluid than it does currently. Despite this, there is a lot to enjoy here – but I can’t help thinking how good a more nuanced approach to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth would be in the hands of Hunter and Baglow.

Macbeth is at Leeds Playhouse until 23 March 2024