Sunday, 6 May 2018

REVIEW: Macbeth at the National Theatre

It was with some trepidation that we stepped into the vast Olivier theatre for Rufus Norris's production of Macbeth as so many of leading theatre critics had savaged the show and reset expectations to a low level. Certainly first impressions were not good with the enormous circular stage framed by long drapes of black plastic hanging limply from roof to floor, a huge metal ramp arcing downstage and a number of Chinese poles reaching up towards the lighting grid covered with more strips of rubbish. It presented a confusing image of some dystopian future, a mix of Mad Max and Blade Runner, with drab dirty costumes dug out of an ancient mod's wardrobe. Yet despite the foreboding, the wonderful central performances shine out in the gloom and produce a stripped back engaging Macbeth with each character focusing you into their own dilemmas and ignoring the mess that surrounds them.

Rory Kinnear is an experienced Shakespearean actor and he draws you in with his clear strong enunciation so every word is understood and heard . He is at his best in his soliloquies downstage directly at the audience and in his scenes with Lady Macbeth, played by Anne-Marie Duff. When we first meet her reading his letter aloud we focus in on her and ignore the ridiculous concrete bunker that is presented as their castle.They both shine through the chaos and show the different emotions of their characters. Kinnear is at times strong and decisive but also we seem him quake with fear when Banquo's ghost (Kevin Harvey)appears or tenderly hold his wife's body when she dies. Duff too is horrified and recoils when she finds the two murder weapons but decisive when she uses them to incriminate the guards and then painfully a lost soul in her sleepwalking. These critical scenes show them at their best and create memorable moments in the production.

The three weird sisters are presented here as supernatural prophets and not the ugly witches of some versions. After their prophesy which haunts Macbeth, they appear as observers of the action most notably in the last scene when they cling high up on the Chinese poles observing the drama below them. Another close observer of Macbeth's despairing descent is Trevor Fox as Porter, their loyal servant who constantly hovers nearby and presents the character as a gentle Geordie. Indeed the production has a feel of being set on the English side of Hadrian's wall with few Scottish accents to be heard.

The "Scottish" kings that bookend the play, Duncan played by Stephen Boxer, looking like Ian Mckellan without his gravitas is notable mainly for his red suit and the young RADA graduate Parth Thakerar fairs better as Malcolm with a curious broken hand but clear delivery of his lines.

Patrick O'Kane as MacDuff is at his best in his emotionally moving but physically
still discovery of the death of his wife and children. 

This is an enjoyable and accessible Macbeth, the language clear and easy to follow and the two central performances of Kinnear and Duff are excellent. Don't be put off by the critical reviews. At the final curtain call you could see the relief and joy in the cast at the enthusiastic and prolonged applause for the fine performances. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★

Seat: K in stalls | Price of Ticket: £50
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