MARK France’s vaulting ambition as a director results in the most impressive use to date of the black box stage at 41 Monkgate.

Re-assembling the production team behind Mooted Theatre Co’s 2009 production of The Taming Of The Shrew, France and his designer Simon Jarvis set Shakespeare’s darkest tragedy against the backdrop of the First World War, sandbags lining the entrance to the auditorium.

A profusion of moustaches evoke that era, but there are echoes too of warfare in the modern chemical age, the soldiers and ghosts and the weird sisters alike wearing Hessian protective masks that double as hoods (in turn suggestive of both the Ku Klux Klan and the hanging bodies in Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit).

For the opening battle scene before the witches (Roxanna Klimaszewska, Gemma Sharp and Margaret Hillier) “meet again”, the stage has two lines of torn tarpaulin sheets that establish a bleak, barren, war-ravaged world. Once the action switches to the Macbeths’ dilapidated manor house, it is apparent this “Scotland” is impoverished, morally murky and desperate: the walls and floors are bare, the windows broken; food and jobs are in short supply; the claustrophobia almost throttling.

France’s inventive direction finds him introducing two tableau scenes, each involving scrabbling and scrapping for bread or fruit. They have the harrowing quality of a Pieter Brueghel painting, while the second also plays on the role of ghosts and the supernatural in the play. Watch out too for the satisfied smile of the ghostly apparition of Jonathan Bedford’s murdered Banquo after he ruins Macbeth’s banquet.

Not all is right in the realisation of France’s vision: he has not had his finest hour in his casting of the two leads. David Zezulka’s Macbeth has the dark eyes, the soldier’s bulk and an often striking vocal delivery, but he needs more fire and ire and less mannered movement to grab the role by the proverbials, while Olivia Munro’s Lady Macbeth appears to have slipped in from Noel Coward’s drawing-room.

For all the visual impact, the production also lacks impetus until the arrival of Andy Curry: a Curry in a hurry as his Macduff knocks the waffling, unfunny Porter (Bedford) out of the way after he takes an eternity to answer the door. He is a cut above everyone else in the 20-strong cast, never more so than in the discourse with Malcolm (Toby Gordon in Henley regatta attire) that is usually the play’s most plodding scene.

Mark France’s Macbeth is bold, brutal, modern, not entirely well acted, but deeply resonant.

Macbeth, The Mooted Theatre Co, 41 Monkgate, York, until October 8 at 7.30pm; no performance on Monday. Box office: 01904 623568 or