Star rating - 10/10
Hurray - it's Manchester International Festival time - when for over two weeks every two years, we prove to the world what us locals already know - when it comes to world class cultural diversity and sheer brilliance, we are leading the way. Sir Kenneth Branagh in Macbeth is certainly the hot ticket of the festival - and hot was the word in the sweltering summer heat in a small deconsecrated church (location strictly secret).
Branagh and his co-director Rob Ashford wanted to create an electrifying, visceral experience for their small audience - and they have absolutely succeeded. From the off you are immersed in a riot of sound - a battle is staged frighteningly close to the audience; sparks fly and there's a real sense of danger. This battle is not usually staged in the play - just mentioned. But this way the pouring rain and fierce fighting give a taste of what is to come.
I know it's predictable and lovey and gushy but I just have to say that seeing Sir Ken do Shakespeare live, you are absolutely aware that you are in the presence of greatness. He is called our modern Olivier and that is no flattery. He is an amazing actor, just mesmerising to watch. Almost on another planet to other actors, he reaches such heights. But Alex Kingston as Lady Macbeth also puts in a stellar performance. And the ever brilliant Ray Fearon is imposing and passionate as Macduff.
The church setting captures the paranormal elements of the play perfectly, and the usual witches are portrayed here as weird sisters. All the action takes place in a small space - right up close to the audience seated on either side of the church's small nave.
It is a large cast, who seem to be lifted to even greater heights by their fellow actors, and who were genuinely thrilled by their many 'curtain calls'. This is absolutely Shakespeare as it should be performed - thrilling, dramatic, passionate, and alive. Don't miss the live screening on 20th July if you weren't lucky enough to get a ticket. If you are going to the real thing - take a fan and a bottle of water - you will need it!