Writer: William Shakespeare
Director: Rufus Norris
Despite its notoriety as the pinnacle of the theatrical world, few can adapt the Bard’s words well. We all know the tale, or at least we boast about knowing it. Macbeth is far from a straightforward production. A step to the left and it becomes dreary, dank and uninteresting. A tad to the right and it lunges headfirst into absurdist horror. Norris has blindly stumbled into both, with deep regrets. As slashes of ingenuity beam out amidst weak decisions.
Thane of Glamis, hereafter Thane of Cawdor, soon after King. Macbeth is the archetype of corruption, blind ambition and self-prophecy. The once heroic general, his appetite for power wetted by a trio of wyrd sisters who sing of his upcoming rise to glory. His wife, tempting the desire out of Macbeth to commit treason and ascend the throne.
Without its women, Macbeth is nothing. True in almost all iterations both the Witches and Lady Macbeth hold the foundations. Without them, no performance – as well delivered as it may be could save the show. Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Macbeth has the spite, inner turmoil of guilt and the desire to push her beloved further. Though through poor direction, Lady Macbeth has lost her bite. Whilst the passion between the pair is evident in their embrace, little convinces us this woman would sacrifice her milk for the infamous four humours. Brutally swept aside are the witches, all in a form too like the next. Little distinguishes them, their plastic sheeting as ‘cloaks’ raising brows more.
Macbeth’s downfall is often the questioning of his manhood, he is a ‘pathetic man’ in Shakespeare’s most misogynistic piece. None of this is present, the ‘unsexing’ of Lady Macbeth or taunts are not highlighted in performance. Again, let down through direction. Michael Nardone takes Macbeth in a subtle shade; his madness is more unfolded than shrieking. Whilst the spectres at the dinner table may lousily apparate – his terror is all too real.
This set, dwarfing the performing, is not utilized well for Macbeth. Perhaps in a completely different production, this would work. The craftsmanship is sublime, though to be blunt, seems more at home washed up on the beach. Often clad in plastics, the rot is tangible but to ill-effect. The looming charcoal blooms utilized as poles for the witches to hang from both perplex and take the tension away from the set. At first, amidst the grime of the setting, a use of palette offers a foolish momentary hope. King Duncan garbed in rich red suggests a costume design with merit. Dashed as the remaining post-apocalyptic coats, hoodies and jeans are a mainstay.
Not all bodes grim though, for a variety of performers channel their character to fruition. As mentioned Besterman and Nardone had potential, let down by directorial decisions. Patrick Robinson’s Banquo along with Ross Waiton’s MacDuff feel most at home with the tragedy. They carry scenes remarkably, tremendous credit due to them especially for Waiton, who shares the stage with Malcolm, portrayed by Joseph Brown, perhaps the weakest player in a National Theatre production.
Woeful as this product may be, there are aspects which keep it from the grave. Despite its familiarity, Macbeth is not easy to adapt. It certainly isn’t any easier to offer anything new. Norris fails to bring life to the show, wrapping it in too drab an appearance. Crossing broadly into camp horror with beheadings, reversed masks all fuel a meek adaptation of a definitive text.
Review originally published for Reviews Hub: