The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings


SEARCH CurtainUp



NEWS (Etcetera)



Los Angeles






Free Updates
NYC Weather
A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

Alas, poor country!
Almost afraid to know itself. It cannot
Be call'd our mother, but our grave; where nothing,
But who knows nothing, is once seen to smile;
Where sighs and groans and shrieks that rend the air
Are made, not mark'd; where violent sorrow seems
A modern ecstasy

-- Ross
Funny how the "Scottish play" is the graveyard of many fine actors. How often Macbeth eludes even great, established directors. Perhaps its impenetrability is the real reason for the many superstitions that surround it? This production, however, is a box office success. This is due to the large numbers of schoolchildren who have Macbeth on the syllabus for their first public examinations at 16 years and who want to see Sean Bean, one of the stars of the film The Lord of the Rings playing the eponymous role. They were gripped by it, many of them seeing their first play, let alone their first Macbeth. So Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter Hall and youthful director, in his third West End production in twelve months, brings us his interpretation of this difficult play.

Some of the director's ideas are starting to look familiar from his productions of Henry V, Julius Caesar and Rose Rage, and not all of them seem appropriate to Macbeth. There is a fine line between what could be described as a director's trademarks and repetitious use of the same staging devices. Hall's favourites seem to be military pomp and loutish soldiers, the red cross of St George and coronations with lots of music. The coronation scene with its medieval singing in Latin seemed to me more English than the Scottish setting of Scone Abbey. There is much use of music in a language that I was unable to understand (maybe Gaelic?) and I didn't hear the witches' famous spell, unless that too was sung and I missed the words. Their prediction too, seemed to be glossed over rather than the lines on which to hang the play. Malcolm's vomiting on seeing the bodies of his father and the guards elicits a comic "Ewe!" from the schoolchildren in the audience rather than the, presumably intended, revulsion. The set is the same post-industrial welded up metal we had in Rose Rage, but the costume is rather pedestrian modern uniforms.

However the production does flow at a fair pace and there is flamboyant, showy, excitement with extravagant thunderstorms and some sexual electricity between the witches and Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth (Samantha Bond) and her thane. These factors pleased the young audience. The banqueting scene works well when Macbeth's chair is occupied by a bloody faced Banquo (Barnaby Kay) who turns to follow Macbeth round the room with his accusatory gaze. Before the final battle the ghosts of Duncan, Banquo and the pregnant Lady MacDuff (Clare Swinburne) and her children look on. The battle has bangs and smoke and flaming torches and clashes of steel broad swords. I might question the wisdom of the naked flames onstage in the middle of a Fire Brigades Union strike, but it adds to the tension.

Sean Bean chooses to speak the part with the flat accent of his native South Yorkshire. I have no objection to his accent, maybe closer to the sound of Shakespearean English, than Estuary English or Received Pronunciation, but his delivery of the lines lacks something. Maybe it is the belief that the words are his own, maybe it is an understanding of the nuances of the text? Physically Bean is very impressive and his four in a bed scene with the three weird sisters which he plays "sans chemise" makes everyone sit up. Most men fantasise at three in a bed, but then if you're Sean Bean maybe you can stretch it to four! In power he becomes a bespectacled, bureaucrat at a desk rather than a warrior king. Samantha Bond starts her role well as the sex equals power, driven, ambitious wife but degenerates into a complaining nag. In madness Julian Glover fails to convey both his roles of the holy Duncan - (he confuses saintliness with being boring) and the comic porter (played in broad Glaswegian and terribly unfunny) whose part seemed cut. Strangest of all is the casting of the diminutive Adrian Schiller as a rather scheming and manipulative Malcolm with his staccato delivery and guarantee that the change of kingship will not be much for the better. Finally, Macbeth's lifelike head appears on the statutory spike, but of course in this case, it is Sean Bean's head. Precisely! But I might add the head of Edward Hall.

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Edward Hall

Starring: Sean Bean, Samantha Bond, Julian Glover
With: Adrian Schiller, Christian Patterson, Mark Bazeley, Finn Caldwell, Tam Williams, David Beames, Clare Swinburne, Alexandra Moen, Jayne McKenna, James Devey/Ryan Nelson/Aran Shipp, Barnaby Kay, Edmund Moriarty, Edward Clayton, Aaron Johnson, Sam Mannox, Joe White, Christopher Obi, Ian Pirie, Nicholas Asbury
Designer: Michael Pavelka
Lighting Designer: Ben Ormerod
Movement: Ian Spink
Music: Simon Slater
Sound Designer: Matt McKenzie
Running time: Two hours twenty minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 7369 1740
Booking to 1st February 2003
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 18th November 2002 performance at the Albery Theatre, St Martins Lane London WC2 (Tube Station: Leicester Square)
Metaphors Dictionary Cover
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.

The Broadway Theatre Archive


©Copyright 2002, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from>