Stratford Upon Avon and London
Macbeth: William Shakespeare
RSC: Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Then Barbican, London
Runs: 2h 20 m, one interval
Stratford Upon Avon to 18 September 2018
then Barbican, London, to 18 January 2019
Review: Rod Dungate, 31 March 2018
Strong modern story-telling in Gothic mode
This is a horror story – dark and brooding, loud interventions from the heavens, and scary witches overseeing it all. They tell us, too, at the end that, in true horror style, the cycle of violence and greed for power never ends. Which makes it, of course, ironically not like a horror film but rather more true to life. Chilling.
The witches set the tone – not three crones or the like, but three little girls, remind us perhaps of The Shining. The story itself, is removed from Scotland (which presents no problem I can see) and in Christopher Eccleston’s no-nonsense portrayal has a rough brusqueness which is compelling. Polly Findlay, who directs, goes for a cracking pace so that events, once set in motion, have a volition of their own. Well wound up, then, by the little witches. The tension is further increased by the sound-scape, captions, lighting and a digital clock, counting down the seconds.
Christopher Eccleston is a fine edgy and intense player. His opening scenes are puzzling, for we seem him almost disengaged from his actions. But after Dunan’s murder it all falls into place. Macbeth was, to an extent, himself disengaged, playing, as it were, a game – ‘What an exciting idea to murder to become king.’ (So the witches do cause it to happen then?) But after the murder, events become, for Macbeth, all too real. Now he is consumed by them, and, indeed, over-whelmed by them. This is a rough, soldierly man who finds himself out of his depth and has neither the emotional nor psychological robustness to handle what he has done. As with his character, Eccleston gives us the big speeches without flourish, straight-down-the-line, but with great clarity.
Niamh Cusack offers us Lady Macbeth. It’s an intelligent performance, but against the rough-hewn Macbeth seems too feminine, we find it hard to believe shy can be any kind of power behind this usurped throne.
Edward Bennett creates a fine Macduff – tough but with an interesting aristocratic centre. The moment when he learns of his household’s murder is beautifully handled. Such powerful silences.
There is a strong ensemble all working well together. But somewhat marred by frequent lapses of diction from younger cast members (not the children.) Perhaps it’s old-fashioned, but it is good to hear what is being said.
Good, strong, story-telling, nevertheless, with an apposite and chilling, modern twist.
Duncan: David Acton
Lord / Young Siward / Murderer: Afolobi Alli
Donalbain / Lady: Donna Banya
Bloody Captain / Murderer: Stevie Basoulo
Macduff: Edward Bennett
Doctor / Lady: Katy Brittain
Aide: Raif Clarke
Lady Macbeth: Niamh Cusack
Siward / Chamberlain: Paul Dodds
Macbeth: Christopher Eccleston
Aide: Josh Finan
Ross: Bally Gill
Lady Macduff: Mariam Haque
Porter: Michael Hodgson
Chamberlain / Lord / Murderer: John Macaulay
Malcolm: Luke Newberry
Security Guard / Murderer: Tom Padley
Lennox: Tim Samuels
Banquo: Raphael Sowole
Director: Polly Findlay
Designer: Fly Davis
Lighting: Lizzie Powell
Music: Rupert Cross
Sound: Christopher Shult
Movement: Aline David
Fights: Kate Walters
Illusions: Chris Fisher