The last time Liam Brennan starred as Macbeth it was in a modern-day interpretation in Musselburgh in which the soldiers wore khaki, news was conveyed by TV screen, and when the thane of Cawdor heard bells it was the sound of his mobile. Ten years later, he's back in the title role in a production that couldn't be more different.

'I've been in the play a few times and I've never been in one like this,' he says of Lucy Pitman-Wallace's production. 'It's medieval Scotland and it's broad swords. I've done gangster ones and machine-gun ones, but this is in the world of the writer's head. He imagined blasted heaths, banqueting halls, rain, cold and not a great degree of physical comfort.'

The prospect of Brennan in a Lyceum Shakespeare is a sign of quality. The actor has been quietly working his way through some of the chunkiest parts in the classical canon, including Leontes in The Winter's Tale, Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and an Iago in Othello that earned him a nomination in the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland in 2005 (he won the following year for his performance in Tales from Hollywood at Perth Theatre).

In addition to these recent portrayals, Brennan has also had several encounters with the Scottish play. The actor starred as Macduff at Shakespeare's Globe, played Banquo in a Radio 3 version and gave his interpretation of the 'real' Macbeth in a Radio 4 series. All of this is good grounding as he gets his teeth into the part of the tragically ambitious hero, the more so having first marked out the territory under the direction of Mark Thomson at the Brunton.

'There's just a degree of spadework that you've done; you know what everything means,' he says. 'You feel like you've already got your feet in a seedbed and you can start to play and experiment that little bit more quickly. The thing I find fascinating is that, however much we despise him, he consistently turns to us and tells us how it feels to have become what he has become. Although we are appalled by him, we are also fascinated because he is incredibly articulate about his own mindset.'

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 12 Sep-Sat 11 Oct


  • 2 stars

The Lyceum kicks off its 08/09 season in fine fettle, with the ever-excellent Liam Brennan as the man who would be king.

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