Macbeth OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness ****
THOSE who will brook no interference with Shakespeare's texts might have baulked at this fast-paced reduction of what is already his shortest tragedy, but any misgivings over what was missing were swept aside by the sheer invention and energy of the production from the Gairloch-based Open Book.
Director Marcus Roche has already completed a schools tour with a shortened version of Romeo & Juliet for the company, but this was a bigger and more ambitious undertaking.
Roche's cuts to the text inevitably sacrificed some well-loved lines and greatly trimmed the character list, leading to some of the actors taking on awkward multiple roles, notably Michelle Gallagher (a solitary but very good witch, among other things) and, in the finale, Helen Mackay, transformed from Lady Macbeth into Young Siward, thereby dying twice.
It was easy enough for the audience to take these expedients in our stride, given fine performances from both women and the rest of the cast, James Mackenzie (Macbeth), Garry Collins (Banquo), Ewan Donald (Macduff) and Cameron Mowat (Malcolm).
The staging also broke with proscenium arch conventions. The entire production was mounted around a large banquet table, graced by Caithness-based visual artist Patricia Niemann's beautiful glasswork, thereby providing a precise focus and removing the need for the many scene changes in this play. The 1930s costumes seemed a more arbitrary decision.
The audience was seated on either side, with a half-dozen at the table itself, and the actors made use of them as sounding boards and implicit "extras". Completing the banquet theme, whisky and shortbread were served at the interval.
Despite the cuts, the production provided a fresh take on the play that was in all essential points both complete and compelling, and the pace never slackened.