Macbeth @ The Lyric Theatre, BelfastTragedy

  • Cahiers Élisabéthains

Macbeth, directed by Lynne Parker, The Lyric Theatre, Belfast, 24 November 2012, stalls back left.

By Laura Campbell

Macbeth Lyric Theatre Belfast 2012

The tragic hero is not the focal point of this production. Lynne Parker has shifted the focus of power to the rest of the characters in order to emphasise the impact of cyclic violence on an entire community. Furthermore, her use of the play’s violence and supernatural and psychological elements combine to create a very Northern Irish Macbeth.


The murder of Banquo (Michael Condron) occurs onstage […]. The key reaction here is that of Macbeth. The appearance of Banquo’s ghost (III.4) becomes a visceral haunting, as he reappears downstage drenched in blood. […] This […] is further emphasised when Banquo returns onstage as an attendant, and Macbeth seems to recognise him before coming to his senses. This is not the only instance in which Parker recycles actors for dramatic purpose; we see Duncan (Naill Cusack) reappear as the doctor, Fleance as a captain in Malcolm’s army, and Donalblaine (Darren Franklin) as a porter in Macbeth’s castle. The effect of this is not only to create a sense that Macbeth (and the audience) are haunted by the victims of the play, but also to suggest that there is a cyclic nature to violence, which is begun by ambition and perpetuated by the need of the community to obtain justice.

Perhaps the most striking instance of this is Lady Macduff (Claire Rafferty). […] Act IV Scene 2 plays like any that might be seen in a Belfast home. The use of dark humour and sarcastic tones draws the audience into a sense of comfort, which is quickly shattered when the murderers appear, killing the boy and dragging Lady Macduff offstage to murder her. This scene is made all the more important in the light of the opening scene, where two Weird Sisters (Carol Moore and Eleanor Methven) call forth their third (Claire Rafferty), apparently from the grave, and put a grey coat around her which matches their own. In using Rafferty in this way, the idea that the characters aside from Macbeth are out to avenge the crimes committed is enhanced. The reaction of the audience when they realise that Lady Macduff is also one of the Weird Sisters is startling. The gasps of the audience indicate that not only did they not expect it, but they understand what Parker is implying: violence begets violence.

The use of the Weird Sisters is perhaps one of the most defining features of any production of Macbeth. […] The opening scene sees them emerge onstage in a fairly foreboding manner, yet one of them potters onstage with a “sholley” — the wheeled shopping bags popular with pensioners. […] But whereas in some adaptations they are used as puppet-masters of doom for Macbeth, Parker uses them as facilitators of justice. They help, through their machinations, to provide justice for the other “recycled” characters. […]

The “haunting” which is most relevant in this Belfast context is that of Lady Macbeth (Andrea Irvine.) […] Her requests of “…unsex me here / And fill me from the crown to the toe, top full / Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood / Stop up th’access and passage to remorse…” (I.5.40-43) are delivered with a brilliant yet quiet malice that helps propel the violence of the play. Yet the passage to remorse is not fully stopped up, because Lady Macbeth also suffers trauma as a result of the violence perpetrated by Macbeth and herself. She needs no spectre to remind her of their crimes, her psychological trauma (V.1) is torture enough. A mature Belfast audience certainly appreciates such a haunting, living in a culture crippled by PTSD, wondering when the next explosion of violence will happen. […]

The role of Macduff (Paul Mallon) is the most prominent in the second half of the play […]. Mallon embodies the romanticised memory of many fathers and husbands in 1970s Belfast who lost entire families in the terrorism that dominated the decade in a way that seems to encourage the whole audience to seek vengeance with him. This is enhanced by the presence of children onstage from Act IV Scene 1 onwards, adding an additional sense of horror to Macduff sometimes being onstage with his “recycled” wife (Rafferty) and this being the only time we see them onstage together.

Yet the final scene of the play is perhaps the defining one, as Parker uses it to draw all the elements of her production together. […] The background is filled with the haunted characters and victims, dead and living. This striking image sums up the idea of communities being torn apart by violence and forever changed by the memory of it. One gets the sense that Mallon’s Macduff will never quite recover, especially from the depth of his grief portrayed in Act IV Scene 3. As Lady Macbeth picks up her husband’s head, and the play closes, we are left with the definite sense that this production was tailored for us, that only we as citizens of Northern Ireland can fully appreciate the haunting of the play and understand how inescapable such violence can be. […]

Read Laura Campbell’s full-length (1500 words) review (with photos) in the forthcoming issue of Cahiers Élisabéthains 83 (Spring 2013), pages 37-40.

Laura Campbell is a postgraduate student in Reconceiving the Renaissance, Queen’s University Belfast.

Cahiers Élisabéthains

Author: Cahiers Élisabéthains

Founded in 1972 and published uninterruptedly ever since, Cahiers Élisabéthains is an international, peer-reviewed English-language scholarly journal publishing articles and reviews on all aspects of the English Renaissance.