Review: Macbeth, RSC, at Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Royal Shakespeare Company artistic director Michael Boyd has certainly made a bold statement with this first new production in the renovated theatre.

Under Boyd’s direction, Shakespeare’s story has been shaken around in an adaptation which will certainly be a talking point – even if it does leave the audience a bit baffled.

To begin with Boyd drops the witches and replaces them with three small children who descend from the sky and run around chuckling and grasping dolls.

In an echo of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, these children are so phantasmic that we wonder whether they are real or a figment of Macbeth’s imagination.

And this picture becomes even more confusing when the children turn out to be the ghosts of Macduff’s family, ordered to be butchered by an increasingly paranoid Macbeth.

Try and unpick this and we are left in a quandary – the very spirits who set Macbeth on his bloody path then fall victim to him.

Boyd also muddies the water over Banquo’s ghost by replaying the scene twice – once with Banquo exacting his own revenge, then with no ghost at all. Are we being led to believe that the supernatural is only in Macbeth’s head?

If so where does that leave our protagonist? The balance between fate and free which lies at the centre of Shakespeare’s play is replaced by simple psychosis.

Jonathan Slinger’s Macbeth is better at hesitant and tired than as the ruthless tyrant he becomes.

At his side Aislin McGuckin is a steely Lady Macbeth whose transformation into a guilt-obsessed fantasist is more powerful for the contrast.

Ultimately, their individual performances are overtaken by the production itself which raises more questions that it can answer.

(Until October 6)