Macbeth 2009 / 2010 / 2011

Previous Performances
One of the greatest events of the international theatre seasonEl Pais

Macbeth is the great tragedy of the imagination. A man and a woman, bound together in ambition, are destroyed in a welter of blood. Cheek by Jowl's ensemble conjures Shakespeare's world of witchcraft, ghosts and apparitions in an hallucinatory experience of sound and shadow.

Working in English, French and Russian, Cheek by Jowl have established an international reputation for bringing 'fresh life to the classics using intense, vivid performances like a laser of light to set the text ablaze' The Guardian. Founded by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod in the company has toured to over 300 cities in 40 countries and is an Associate Company at the Barbican, London.

This production is suitable for 16+

Produced by Cheek by Jowl in a co-production with barbicanbite10; Les Gémeaux/Sceaux/Scène Nationale; Koninklijke Schouwburg, The Hague; Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg; Théâtre du Nord, Lille and Théâtre de Namur/Centre dramatique

Find out more by visiting the entry for this production in our archive

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Will KeenMacbeth
Anastasia HilleLady Macbeth
David CavesMacduff
David CollingsDuncan/Scottish Doctor
Kelly HottenPorter/Lady Macduff
Orlando JamesMalcolm
Ryan KiggellBanquo
Vincent Enderby
Jake Fairbrother
Nicholas Goode
Greg Kolpakchi
Edmund Wiseman

DirectorDeclan Donnellan
DesignerNick Ormerod
Associate and Movement DirectorJane Gibson
Lighting DesignerJudith Greenwood
ComposerCatherine Jayes
Sound DesignerHelen Atkinson
Assistant DirectorOwen Horsley
Casting DirectorSiobhan Bracke
Company Voice WorkPatsy Rodenburg
Fight DirectorJonathan Waller
Technical DirectorSimon Bourne
Costume SupervisorAngie Burns
Technical Stage ManagerDougie Wilson
Company Stage ManagerRichard Llewelyn
Deputy Stage ManagerClare Loxley
Production LightingRoss Corbett
Production SoundTim Middleton
Wardrobe ManagerSimon Anthony Wells
Assistant Stage ManagerRhiannon Harper


4 stars
There are no visible knives, gore, cauldrons or fateful letters. The witches are reduced to female voices that emerge from the silhouettes of the 12-strong company. Yet by the power of paradox and strong theatrical suggestion, Declan Donnellan's superb Cheek by Jowl version of Macbeth has a terrible and transfixing presence.

Like a cross between psychodrama and fierce, fluid modern dance, the production creates a creepily variable sense of time. There are transitions that move with the speed of a slasher's knife; episodes that seem to emerge from the foregoing scenes as though they had been eerily embedded within them like spies; and soliloquies that impart a sickened sensation of temporal suspension. The actors, in uniform black T-shirts, hurtle across Nick Ormerod's spacious, austerely bare set or freeze-frame expressively under the sculptural, noir-like lighting of Judith Greenwood.

For Donnellan, the witches are evidently an emanation of pre-existing guilty desire ? visible to Banquo, too, because we all share the same susceptibilities, though some may choose not to act on them. The production's emphasis is less on the victims of the Macbeths' evil than on the horror of being the Macbeths. For some, this will seem a whitewash of the Stalin-like behaviour of the hero once he becomes king. But Donnellan has listened to the poetry and presents the waking nightmare of the couple's lives after the initial murder and the unravelling of their marriage with a harrowing pathos. Wiry and highly strung, Anastasia Hille's brilliant Lady Macbeth is a woman who, from the start, has to override psychological fragility with a hideously strained firmness of purpose. With his compact physique and humane demeanour, Will Keen's excellent Macbeth shows you a troubled introvert who, in order to survive has to retreat into dreadful self-dissociation.

The physicality of the staging is always in the service of psychological penetration. There's a wonderful moment when Lady Macbeth welcomes the (here blind) King Duncan and their outstretched arms form a kind of threshold under which the soliloquising Macbeth ducks as if gaining entry to the next phase of his plot quite literally through a gesture of sheer sacrilegious fraudulence by his wife.

Highly recommended. Paul Taylor, The Independent, UK. 29 March 2010
A darkly splendid Macbeth

Declan Donnellan presents Macbeth in the original language and in a highly original production.

With the help of elucidating surtitles, one of the great pleasures for the theatregoer is to see a play performed in its original language. The language of drama has its own poetry, its own music and there are those who never miss the chance to hear Chekhov in Russian or Shakespeare in English. Declan Donnellan is a regular at Les Gémeaux, in Sceaux (20 minutes by metro from the centre of Paris). He is an inspired artist and he runs a highly disciplined company. In Françoise Letellier's marvellous space at Les Gémeaux, Cymbeline was staged in 2007 and Troilus and Cressida in 2008, fabulous productions, intoxicating, inventive and unforgettable, in which the discipline of the actors was as impressive as the audacity and depth of their performances.

Declan Donnellan works equally well with French actors (Le Cid, Andromaque) and Russian (Boris Godounov for example). For Macbeth, he has brought together twelve magnificent British actors, who all share the same feeling for language, the same physical commitment, and the same finely honed sense of space, that reminds us what theatre is ...

What interests Declan Donnellan is not the obvious dreadfulness of the Macbeths' crime. That is for the tabloids! What fascinates him is how the venomous nature of their actions poisons them little by little, and the way in which Shakespeare makes us understand the horror of their dawning realisation.

In Nick Ormerod's very open set, which is beautiful in its simplicity, Donnellan arranges the tragedy in movements, like a piece of music. It is dazzling, and every performance is intelligent and subtle. The prize must go to the women: Anastasia Hille is a fabulous Lady Macbeth, and Kelly Hotten a darkly humorous porter from hell -even in Macbeth there are comic moments... And there is magic, even here when the witches are invisible! Will Keen is excellent in the title role, David Caves as Macduff. There is not a weak link in the ensemble. Armelle Héliot, Le Figaro, France. 9 February 2010


Looking great Mr. Macbeth!

What is new about this Shakespeare? What makes it so unique? In Declan Donnellan's production there are no daggers or blood. It is austere and concise, pure wonderwork.

Until now I had never seen a complete personification of Macbeth, and believe me, I have encountered a few. Declan Donnellan has opened my eyes and ears. This, ladies and gentlemen, hardly ever happens. Every now and then someone puts on a Shakespeare play and suddenly enlightens you with a passage, a character, or - with much luck- the entire play. Once something like this takes place, your heart expands, you breathe more freely, and feel extremely hungry. I will quote only three cases in recent years: John Caird's Hamlet (Olivier, 2000) starring Simon Russell Beale; Michael Grandage's Othello (Donmar, 2007), where Ewan McGregor played a Iago you could have bought ten used cars from; and Simon McBurney's Measure for Measure (once again at the Olivier, 2003) an almost Elizabethan foretaste of Fritz Lang's The Big Heat. Last week in Salt I topped up the list with Cheek by Jowl's Macbeth, one of the top performances of Temporada Alta: an absolute premiere in Spain, straight out of the oven.

I could be critical of certain aspects of the mise-en-scène, so I will start by getting these observations out of my way and then focus on the best of it. I did not quite get, for example, Macduff's (David Caves) portrayal. He acted impassive when discovering the bodies of Duncan and family but went berserk when finding out about his own relatives' murder. True, one's own flesh and blood hurts, but Caves goes from total sobriety to excess in a spectacle that is otherwise characterised by absolute restraint. There is also one idea, which has a certain charm as a colourful window in this dark universe, I will not deny it, but it also grates a little: to turn the porter into a kind of bed and breakfast Scottish janitress, with a mini kilt and an Amy Winehouse air. Well, that is said. The rest (and the rest is a lot) is pure wonderwork.

Donnellan and Ormerod (design and costume, as almost always) have put on one of their most austere and concise spectacles: an empty space flanked by black wooden columns that filter an agonizing light; rough garments (dark frockcoats and silver buttons), and cloudscapes of artificial fog. A violin that sounds like Sweeney Todd's siren, a drum that resonates like a mace, and a lyric lute. There are no daggers or blood. The cast is extraordinary (a house brand) and the main characters are totally exceptional. Macbeth is portrayed by Will Keen. He is also remembered as the villain De Flores in The Changeling, resembling a short John Malkovich. Lady Macbeth is Anastasia Hille, an actress who has had a profound impact on me since I first saw her in the mid nineties when I had gone on a pilgrimage to Bury St. Edmonds to see the premiere of The Duchess of Malfi, her first work for Donnellan. She later performed an unforgettable Isabella in Measure for Measure.

What is new about this Macbeth, what makes it so unique? Until now, every interpretation I had seen of the play accentuated the atmosphere and the prosopopeia. 'Guele d'atmosphere', as Arletty proclaimed. It made you want to say: 'I am aware that this is a bloody tragedy, but opening your eyes wide and making strange voices is redundant'. There is none of that situation here. From the start, Keen and Hille's voices (and also Ryan Kiggell's, a remarkable Banquo I mustn't forget) are natural, well projected, and clear, without a hint of declamation. That is, the voices of normal people, overtaken by an extraordinary circumstance. Frances Orella also approached this kind of performance in Carlos Alfaro's staging of the play. Macbeth/Keen's voice is that of a man who questions himself, as if he cannot completely believe what has just happened, and, above all, what is happening. He is almost saying: 'Now wait a minute. Have I really killed the royal family? Have I not dreamed this?' And, even worse: 'So, this is who I am? Where does all this obscurity come from?' In this sense, Donnellan?s Macbeth is a character that is both delirious and reflective. When seeing and hearing him, one also sees Richard III, and Hamlet at the end, when he realizes everything is lost. One can even identify an irate and nihilist Prospero. In the first part he is a boy: his wife drives him to kill, like a mother sends her son to bed. In the end, I saw something I had never perceived in a Macbeth: greatness. The greatness of a scoundrel who gains immense lucidity in his downfall ('I have supp'd full with horrors; direness ... cannot once start me') and chooses to fight until the end, 'fight till from my bones my flesh be hack'd'.

Anastasia Hille plays Lady Macbeth like a dreadful mother, but not a matron. She is stunning in the scene of the proclamation dance, with an unexpected touch of high comedy (with her grand dame laughter to conceal Macbeth's raving response to Banquo's ghost) and a performance of madness I had never seen before. I am lying. I had seen it but in another place and another character: Jean Seberg in Lilith. Donnellan sets a sublime scene for her: the somnambulant queen washes her hands (with no exaggerated theatricality: just pure delicacy) to erase the invisible blood, as the members of the court watch her silently, in a circle, like the doctors of a Victorian madhouse. Another image, as simple and precious, emerges later on: Will Keen performs his last monologue and embraces her. When he is told 'The queen, my lord, is dead', she is still there, embracing him and looking into his eyes until the end. Then comes (overcomes to be honest) the colossal passage: 'Life's but a walking shadow... a tale told by an idiot', which Keen pronounces and makes us listen to it as if the first time, the original night of evil. He then emerges like Montenegro's great-grandfather ('Throw physic to the dogs; I'll none of it. Come, put mine armour on; give me my staff') in order to face Macduff who makes us forget his impassive expression and his frenzy- in a ferocious duel choreographed down to the last detail. The new king of Scotland raises his arm and the emblematic silence of the great night of theatre flows in; then the shower of applause; and the hunger. After all this, we could eat a wild boar. Marcos Ordoñez (translated by Cybele Peña), El País, Spain. 17 October 2009
With Macbeth, until the very end of his night

Shakespeare's tragedy of regicide is a theatrical vision of hell on earth...
Declan Donnellan premiers his new production in Namur...

Without a doubt, Macbeth is the darkest, shortest, leanest and most austere of all of Shakespeare's tragedies. Based on Scottish history, the plot is easily summed up. A worthy warrior, Macbeth receives honours and a one-night visit from the king to his castle. Having received a prophesy which predicts he will be king one day, he decides with his wife to murder the king. Having become a bloodthirsty tyrant, the usurper is finally toppled and killed by the English forces.

Shakespeare seems interested in depicting the rise of evil, the vicious circle of murder and the voluntary damnation of a soul. Director Declan Donnellan focuses on Macbeth's waking nightmares: 'Shakespeare does not intend to put an inhuman monster in the stocks. Instead, he wants to make us feel what takes place in the heart and brain of a bold man, who transgresses all the limits.'

This is precisely what one experiences during the two feverish, intense, and breathless hours of the performance. In the manner of Peter Brook, Declan Donnellan strips his stage bare and keeps only what is indispensible. The author of The Actor and the Target is, above all, a fantastic director of actors. He deliberately leaves it entirely up to them to tell the play.

Almost threadbare, the design and costumes by Nick Ormerod support those intentions. There is a definite Spartan feel in this Macbeth: no daggers, no blood-soaked shirts. In order to conjure them up, language and movement are paramount. More than in any other Cheek by Jowl production, the choral and choreographic elements are raised to new levels. The 'poetry of evil' spreads its wings like a macabre ballet.

The witches remain in the shadows, stiff, still, breathing like ancient-tongued mouths of the night. They pronounce their ironic and deathly oracles against a background of ghostly whispers and creakings. Here the supernatural apparitions are the projections of unconscious urges made manifest. With his warm but throaty voice, Will Keen as Macbeth holds your attention from the very start, and keeps us fascinated for the remaining two hours. Anastasia Hille, as Lady Macbeth, is just as captivating, even if her voice occasionally drops. There is something undoubtedly sexual and hallucinatory in her reckless determination to "do the deed".

The rest of the cast give their all, creating an incandescent portrayal of the torments of humanity pushed to the extremes. After two hours (in English with surtitles) the audience at the premiére enthusiastically applauded a company on the verge of physical exhaustion for a solid six minutes. The spent and bowing actors had successfully performed a ritual, a tremendous combination of exorcism and collective catharsis. Philip Tirard, La Libre, Belgium. 24 September 2009
A pure, yet tough take on Shakespeare, stunning!

This fresh take on Macbeth is seminal; Declan Donnellan is a fabulous director
With virtually no set and in contemporary costume, the actors, with their sheer presence, create a startling realism
A must-see

No Scottish castle to speak of, no witches, no cauldrons, no ghosts, no daggers, no blood: the stage in this Macbeth is a choreographed, choral playground for the actors' movements and voices. And the intensity of this production, directed by Declan Donnellan, reaches a pinnacle of despair which leaves you panting and stunned after two hours (in English with French surtitles, no intermission).

The heroes are human beings just like us. They are not monsters of Scottish legend: we are inside Macbeth's head, and we share the life of this warrior (and lover, and husband). His nightmarish descent to the depths of his despair is triggered by a first murder, motivated by his vaulting ambition to sit on the throne. But thereafter he has to keep his throne, and the price is ever more bloodshed. As a prisoner of his thoughts and fantasies, Macbeth (Will Keen, whose stage presence is dark and sober, but radiant) fixes his stare upon the rapt audience and, standing at the front of the stage, he speaks... just the way it was done in Shakespeare's time.

Behind him, the action is in freeze-frame. Declan Donnellan doesn't ignore the theatrical aspects of stage-craft. With a single gesture he makes you see the heavy medieval sword, and makes you feel its weight. And without a single drop of blood, the murders are startling realistic.

Hands speak as much as voices. For example, when Macbeth is told of his wife's death, she is still very much there, alive, on the stage, pressed against him; but she slips from his embrace and disappears, and nothing remains but the space of her absent body between Macbeth's empty hands. Donnellan chooses to focus his production on the couple, without rehashing the old 'Lady M' stereotype of a raving dominatrix. She is all woman: fragile, with shocking blazes of madness. Anastasia Hille is sublime. And the couple's infamous persuasion - one convincing the other - has never been so clear as here.

The final frame shows them lying side by side.

A heavy fog prevails and black dominates the staging - the contemporary costumes are discrete military vests - the black of night and the black of stormy nature suffuses the whole piece. On either side of the stage two rows of open lattice wooden towers filter through torch-like rays of fiery yellow light. Only one element disrupts this austere unity, bringing a modern, barmy, and colourful touch to the play. The porter's lodge is wheeled onto the stage and inside is an odd, drowsy, red-haired creature having a hard time with her intercom: in Shakespeare's work it is customary to have a clown scene, and the horror of Macbeth is no exception. There is also a violin player on stage who solicits dancing from the guests at Macbeth's coronation, and whose ominous sustained notes enhance the darkest moments of the story. The supernatural is portrayed here as a figment of the human brain, and the witches, almost invisible, are but women's voices in the night.

This fresh take on Macbeth is a seminal production; Declan Donnellan is an exceptionally powerful director. He leads his company, Cheek by Jowl, to new heights. Michèle Friche, Le Soir, Belgium. 24 September 2009

Rehearsal Photos

Press Release

Macbeth Press Release (PDF)