Macbeth crown and skyline

Bard in the Yard: Macbeth

Barbican Theatre’s Macbeth is their fourth summer Bard in the Yard production. The show features a local cast and is staged in a walled garden in Plymouth’s Royal William Yard.

Royal William Yard

The beautifully restored Royal William Yard is one of our favourite evening spots in Plymouth. The Grade I listed, former navy supply buildings have been sensitively transformed into shops, restaurants, bars and apartments, all set around a marina and jutting out into Plymouth Sound. It’s a great setting for a pre-show drink and bite to eat, and we even got a chance to check out the resident giant squid!

Bard in the Yard

The setting for Barbican Theatre’s Macbeth is the Residence One garden. Tucked away behind Bistrot Pierre, we walked on to a grassy lawn flanked by trees. It had a real feeling of entering a secret garden. An events bar and BBQ had been set up to cater the show and by the time we arrived picnics and pre-theatre drinks were in full flow.

Macbeth staging

The stage was set up in a gangway style, with raised ends and a long central platform. Even before the show started it was clear it would be a very intimate and immediate performance. The audience members surrounded the stage on either side, so we knew we were going to be very close to the action!

All hail Macbeth!

The arrival of the witches set the tone for a very contemporary performance. Dressed in hoodies and baseball caps they leapt on to the stage from graffiti-laden scaffolding, instantly plunging the audience into the story.

Bard in the Yard: Macbeth and witches
Macbeth and the witches. Image: Gemma Ward photography for Barbican Theatre

I’ve seen a number of productions where Shakespeare is given a contemporary update and few (if any) have worked as well as this. Whilst the clothing and staging may have been modern, the language and characters were unmistakably Shakespearean. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most timeless plays and the new and old blended seamlessly. The themes of ambition, jealousy, and guilt are just as relatable now as they were 400 years ago.

Macbeth Banquo and witches
Image: Jo Cann for Barbican Theatre

Barbican Theatre’s Macbeth is a gripping production, which seemed to fly by. The minimal set allowed seamless scene changes, with action swiftly following more intense moments of drama. John Inkerman’s moving realisation of grief as Macduff, and Lady Macbeth’s famed bloody hands scene were particularly heartfelt. But, despite the heavy subject of murder and treason, there was light relief too. This was most noticeable in the porters’ scene, cleverly updated yet still providing the contrast to the preceding murder.

Bard in the Yard actors
Image: Gemma Ward photography for Barbican Theatre

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

For me, one of the highlights of Macbeth is the role reversal of the central characters. Lady Macbeth begins the play with ruthless ambition, whilst her husband is unsure and immediately after Duncan’s murder, plagued with guilt. By the end, however, Lady Macbeth has cracked from the pressure, whilst Macbeth’s resolve appears to grow in mad determination. Hassan Maarfi as Macbeth and Seren Vickers as Lady Macbeth handled this transition expertly.

The confidence and self-assuredness of Maarfi’s Macbeth in the show’s opening sows the seed for the vision of corrupted power and eventually madness that dominates act two. But it is undoubtedly Vickers’ Lady Macbeth that sets him on this path, uncompromisingly ambitious and determined, best seen in her act one monologue.

Macbeth fight
Hassan Maarfi as Macbeth. Image: Jo Cann for Barbican Theatre

Macbeth: the cast

It was striking how versatile all the Bard in the Yard cast were, shifting rapidly between characters. Alexander Dover brilliantly brought Banquo to life as both the living and ghostly form of the character. Whilst actors Ruan Evans and Abigail Cowan took on fourteen different roles in the course of the play. Each was markedly different in voice, manner and appearance. However, it was in their role as witches, joined by Danny Laine and John James McColl, that I was most taken. Director Jo Loyn’s witches are chaotic and mischievous, driving murder and jealousy for their own wicked amusement.

Banquo on stage, Macbeth
Alexander Dover as Banquo. Image: Gemma Ward photography for Barbican Theatre

Open air-theatre

It was an incredibly intense and engaging production. The blood may have been staged but the sweat and tears were definitely real. And the outdoor setting really helped set the atmosphere. The growing darkness and occasional bursts of fire from the crown on stage adding to the performance.

Bard in the Yard is showing until Saturday 11 August 2018 and tickets are available from Barbican Theatre. We had a fantastic night and with the weather looking good for the next week we’d definitely recommend taking a trip to Royal William Yard to see this show while you still can!

Macbeth as night falls
Image: Jo Cann for Barbican Theatre

Image credits:

Jo Cann for Barbican Theatre

Gemma Ward photography for Barbican Theatre

Nick Frampton, Westcountry Weekender


The Barbican Theatre kindly provided us with complimentary tickets for the show. As always, all our reviews and write-ups are honest opinions and all views are our own.