Fair is foul, and foul is fair: / Hover through the fog and filthy air. So chant Shakespeare’s three witches at the beginning of his infamous psychological thriller, Macbeth; an apt phrase these ever more gloomy autumnal nights in October, often that familiar City fog accompanied by a typical British rain (though hopefully the polluted air isn’t too ‘filthy’ these more environmentally conscious days we’re living in; round of applause to the cyclists and fervent pedestrians among you). Nevertheless, what better a choice of indoor entertainment than the RSC’s production of that great tragedy of the Bard’s dramatic repertoire this month at The Barbican?

But it’s not just the ramblings of The Weïrd Sisters that lures audiences in, of course, but rather the choice of cast for one of ol’ Will’s darkest plays. In this run, commencing its London sojourn on 15 October and staying until 18 January 2019, the titular role is taken by Christopher Eccleston, and his scheming wife Lady Macbeth is played by Niamh Cusack. Quite the starry duo (supported by Raphael Sowole as Banquo and wonderfully subtly emotional Edward Bennet as MacDuff), and it is a coupling that marks Eccleston’s debut with the RSC, though is a return for Cusack.

Nonetheless, Eccleston has worked with the producer-director – and former child actor – Polly Findlay (of 2016’s The Alchemist fame) before, in her 2012 production of Sophocles’ Antigone at the Olivier Theatre, so the relationship between director and leading man obviously works well – as does the militarised setting in this very contemporary interpretation.

 

Also known as “The Scottish Play”, Macbeth has seen its paired leading roles performed by some of the biggest names in theatre history when put on by the RSC: Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in 1955; Nicol Williamson and Helen Mirren in 1974; Ian McKellen and Judi Dench in 1976; and Jonathan Pryce and Sinéad Cusack (Niamh’s sister) in 1986. Furthermore, compellingly dark as it is, and as given as Shakespeare’s work is to myriad interpretations, Macbeth’s themes of lust for power and bloody revenge never become outdated. Findlay’s talented touch (most recently employed with David Eldridge’s then new play Beginnings, first at the National Theatre last autumn and the Ambassadors this spring) has ensured that.

With music by Rupert Cross and sound and lighting overseen by Christopher Shutt and Lizzie Powell respectively, what really adds to the terrifying nature of this production is the decision to have children play the witches (complete with old fashioned pyjamas and creepy dolls in hand). Double, double toil and trouble: / Fire, burn; and, cauldron, bubble indeed. Audiences in the RSC’s home base in Stratford-upon-Avon relished it. As The Stage put it: “One for the horror film fans…haunting, creepy, eerie.”

Deemed “urgent and wonderfully sinister” by The Evening Standard, tickets cost between £10 and £59.50 (concessions available). Be sure to book early as this is certain to sell quickly.

 

Please also note that the performance contains strobe lighting effects, loud noises, and sudden blackouts.