Review: Macbeth at The National Theatre, London
Artistic director, Rufus Norris, takes on his first Shakespeare play in 25 years with his production of Macbeth at the National Theatre. Arguably one of the hottest tickets in London and already set for a UK tour, Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s best loved and most well-known works.
In the aftermath of civil war, three witches deliver a prophesy of Kingship to Macbeth sending him and his wife on a greed-led journey of murder and betrayal. Macbeth delves into the dark realms of human ambition and the extreme bond formed through marital love.
The Olivier is the largest stage at the National and had a difficult 2017 with two critically panned productions, Common and Salome, before being revitalised at the end of the year with a spectacular revival of the Sondheim musical, Follies. Norris’ Macbeth unfortunately adds to the list of productions that have lost their way in this vast space. This rendition of the popular classic lacks focus and vision, leaving it meandering against a dystopian backdrop of wartime bunkers and dishevelled slums.
Anne Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear are no strangers to the National Theatre, nor to Shakespeare, but even they seem to struggle to make sense of this production. Kinnear’s Macbeth lacks any clear sense of ambition, which makes you wonder why he’d go to all the trouble of murder in the first place. Duff’s talent shines through as Lady Macbeth but is stifled by underwhelming direction, removing all bite and drama from one of theatres greatest female roles. Together the pair lack any kind of chemistry and are often overshadowed by lesser characters in the piece. Kevin Harvey is a notable Banquo, bringing some much needed energy to proceedings. The witches are well performed with a stand out turn from Hannah Hutch, who literally runs circles around the rest of the actors, cackling all the while.
Various script cuts and the unrefined nature of the direction often render the plot totally nonsensical, relying on the audiences previous knowledge of the story to fill in the gaps. The world in which this interpretation takes place also makes very little sense, with no particular comfort appearing to be afforded to the coveted position of king, while meanwhile Malcolm has a swish waistcoat and fancy writing desk. A large bridge-like structure is an epic and impressive feature of the staging, although after a scene or two it has clearly become devoid of purpose and is pushed to the back of the space causing every other set piece to be clumsily manoeuvred around it.
At its heart, Macbeth is a story of greed, ambition, witches and ghosts. All the good stuff. But this production is lacking in exciting other worldly happenings and the characters have been stripped of all the edge we’ve come to know and love.
With this production making no clear choices about what it’s trying to do or say, it makes for a watchable, if rather fruitless, evening at the theatre. All in all, it’s bleaker than bleak. And not in a good way.
Macbeth plays at the National Theatre until 23rd of June with an NT Live broadcast on 10th May. UK and Ireland tour will commence September 2018, casting yet to be announced.