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REVIEW: Macbeth (an undoing), Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, 2024

Updated: May 26

Macbeth (an undoing) Royal Lyceum Edinburgh 2024

Macbeth (an undoing)

Written and Directed by Zinnie Harris

after William Shakespeare

15 May 2024

The Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh


A playful, imaginative retelling of Macbeth.

When Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman and army general, receives a prophecy from three witches that he is to become the King of Scotland, his wife sets out to make that a reality. Lady Macbeth's ambition sets in motion a tragic chain of events that leads to conflict and murder.

Returning home to the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh following an international tour, Macbeth (an undoing) brings Lady Macbeth to the forefront of Shakespeare's classic play and proposes an alternate construction of her tale. Writer / director Zinnie Harris "undoes" the accepted narrative and asks why did someone who started out so strong and ruthless end up pacing the halls in madness? Is Lady Macbeth misunderstood or just merely under written?

Macbeth (an undoing) begins on a bare, cavernous stage but the set soon slides into position. Made up of mirrored walls and with precise, beautiful lighting, the set-up is eerie and effective. An early dinner scene at Macbeth's castle is particularly attractive and the costumes by Alex Berry are exquisite throughout.

The modern-era dresses may be the first clue that this is not your traditional Macbeth, but revisions to the plot soon become apparent too.

In this version the three witches are known to Lady Macbeth (Nicole Cooper) long before they meet her husband on the moorland. Lady Macbeth has consulted with them in a desperate attempt to carry a baby to term, and she has refused to pay them when unsuccessful. Do the weird sisters seek vengeance? Is that why they seek out her husband? I love this kind of 'what if?' in theatre!

Pregnancy and fertility is a theme that runs through this adaptation of Macbeth. Not only do we come to know Lady Macbeth better, but Lady Macduff too (the wonderful Emmanuella Cole.) When I realised just how Lady Macduff and her pregnancy were to fit in, I wanted to sit up and cheer. This is exactly the kind of clever and imaginative writing that endears 400-year-old plays to contemporary audiences.

There is none better to take on the iconic role of Lady Macbeth than Nicole Cooper. She leads this play with confidence and poise. Every line, every movement is flawless and captivating. Not only does Cooper have to navigate a lengthy production and the complexity of Shakespeare's prose, but she has so much blood to contend with. So much blood! It appears from nowhere to repeatedly stain her hands and her pristine white dresses. I genuinely don't know how it was done, but it was extremely impressive to witness.

Nicole Cooper in Macbeth (an undoing). Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz

In the original text the blood that appears on Lady Macbeth's hands is a symbol of her guilt - quite literally, she has blood on her hands. But in this retelling the blood not only stains her hands but her abdomen, and symbolises her misfortunate too.

Theatre will always win over film for me: the magic of live performers, beautiful direction and technical wizardry as can be seen here is awe inspiring. At one point blood literally drips onto the stage. I'm so pleased that they didn't hold back, but the laundry bill for this show must be astronomical.

The marvellous Liz Kettle plays one of the three witches and Lady Macbeth's servant, but she also takes on the role of a confidante, playfully breaking the fourth wall to berate the audience for turning up to watch a tragedy unfold. She reprimands us for our desire to see blood and, well, she is not wrong.

To begin with it does feel a little unsettling to be addressed by one of the players but Kettle is hilarious and alluring - she draws us in and I want to know more. Later, things become even more meta as other characters become aware that they are in a play and stage assistants wander into scene. The play is trying to right itself and to drag Lady Macbeth back to her fate. It's a complicated and clever construct: Zinnie Harris may be a genius.

Liz Kettle in Macbeth (an undoing). Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz

The entire company are wonderful but the men do undoubtedly take a back seat here: their voices seem quieter, their presence somehow diminished against such strong performances from Cooper, Kettle and Cole.

I found this fresh feminist take on Macbeth to be truly bewitching (pardon the pun.) Zinnie Harris's ideas are masterful, but the complexities mean there is a lot to unravel and the conclusion ran on too long. Some plot devices were a little irritating: the incessant knocking and repeated requests for a fresh dress started to grate on me after a while. But perhaps this was the intention; I could see how they could drive someone mad.

Don't sleep on Zinnie Harris's Macbeth (an undoing), it's bloody brilliant ⭐⭐⭐⭐

🎟️ Macbeth (an undoing) is at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh from 14 - 25 May 2024

⚠️ Recommended age: 12+

📸 Production photos: Ellie Kurttz


Macbeth (an undoing) Cast and Creative

Lady Macbeth ~ Nicole Cooper

Macbeth ~ Adam Best

Banquo ~ James Robinson

Lady Macduff ~ Emmanuella Cole

Carlin ~ Liz Kettle

Missy ~ Star Penders

Bloody Soldier / Lennox ~ Taqi Nazeer

Macduff / Doctor ~ Thierry Mabonga

Ross / Murderer 1 ~ Laurie Scott

Duncan / Murderer 3 ~ Marc Mackinnon 


Writer/Director ~ Zinnie Harris 

Set Designer ~ Tom Piper 

Costume & Associate Set Designer ~ Alex Berry 

Costume Supervisor ~ Morag Pirrie

Dramaturg ~ Frances Poet

Lighting Designer ~ Lizzie Powell 

Lighting Associate ~ Maria Chirca

Sound Designer ~  Pippa Murphy 

Sound Supervisor ~ Amir Sherhan

Composer ~ Oguz Kaplangi 

Producer ~ Hannah Roberts

Company Stage Manager ~ Claire Williamson

Deputy Stage Manager ~ Jessica Ward

Assistant Stage Manager ~ Katy Steele

Movement Director ~ Emily Jayne Boyle 

Casting Director ~ Simone Pereira Hind CDG and Anna Dawson 

Fight and Intimacy Director ~ Kaitlin Howard


Macbeth (an undoing) review, Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, May 2024. Zinnie Harris, Nicole Cooper, Liz Kettle.

📸 Find Lisa in the Theatre on Instagram and Twitter / X 

🎟️ Disclosure: I was invited to review this show and received a complimentary ticket in exchange. Neither the venue nor show has a say in what I write. I'm completely independent and invites have no impact on my analysis or star ratings.

Lisa in the Theatre, Scottish Theatre, UK theatre blogger, reviewer, critic


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