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A CurtainUp London Review
This very Scottish Macbeth is almost post apocalyptic with its dystopian society and the noise of electrical short circuiting disrupting power. The cast are in modern dress and almost everyone will end up covered with blood at some stage in this visceral production. The weird sisters wear gas masks and khaki vests. We are told in the programme that they might be veteran soldiers returning from wars, their predictions derived from experience maybe?
Lloyd has asked everyone to concentrate on the text and seeing this Macbeth is like hearing some of the text for the very first time, such is clarity with which the verse is spoken in this oft-disaster of a play, with its run of bad luck and theatrical superstition. But it is James McAvoy's and director Lloyd's night.
Despite the violence of battle, Macbeth first appears to be a good man, a worthy soldier, a loyal subject, until "vaulting ambition" makes him over reach into regicide. The violence destroys all who touch it. Lady Macbeth (Claire Foy) pushes her husband into the killing of the king, the good old white haired Duncan (Hugh Ross) and the framing of his servants but then doesn't handle her queenship well and falls victim to obsessive cleansing of her hands. The noble soldier becomes a murderer of his guests, of his king, of his best friend and of women and children. Can post traumatic stress disorder explain that?
Forbes Masson as Banquo, in the same fight as Macbeth, will cleanse his hands in order to shake hands with the king but, like Macbeth, leave his face and head soaked in the red gore. I was waiting for them to clean up! I met someone on Friday night who said that Lloyd's Macbeth was so bloody, the blood was dripping through into the Studio 2 space below. I think the story was apocryphal but still the image is powerful. Eat your heart out Lucy Bailey!
There are plenty of powerful contemporary themes with the news and images of warfare that resonate with the play set around battlefield killings and the murders of anyone who might threaten Macbeth's hold on the kingdom. The murder of Lady Macduff (Allison McKenzie) and her child (rather than children here) is heartbreaking as she hides the child but he cries out to defend her reputation as the murderers abuse her and so gives away his hiding place in a cupboard under the dead body of his mother. In this production, in a deviation from the text, Macbeth himself, not his henchmen, murders the Macduff child. I also thought the banquet becoming a meal of stew out of pots unconventional but McAvoy sees the ghost of Banquo long before we do and acts in a disturbed fashion.
Claire Foy's Lady Macbeth is taunting as she chides her husband into the first ignoble act. We see Macbeth throw up in an onstage lavatory after the murder of the king. This production is the stuff of nightmares as the witches on the last visitation seem to clone themselves and reproduce. The English troops look like some kind of peace protest and the list of virtues from Malcolm (Mark Quartley) is really moving ("The king-becoming graces, / As justice, verity, temperance, stableness, / Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, / Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude"). And it is Malcom too who reminds us about the man Macbeth once was, "This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,/ Was once thought honest; you have loved him well".
James McAvoy is very likeable and a sympathetic figure but we are convinced by the murder of a child onstage of his descent into villainy. As he becomes more determined, so his wife starts to fade. Heart rending too is Macduff (Jamie Ballard) when told of the death of his wife and children. Macbeth talks about the old age he should have had, replaced by curses. The "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy is beautifully spoken, full of regret and reflection about the futility of life. When he hears that Macduff is not of woman born, Macbeth literally gives up what has been an excitingly staged fight, his confidence in the witches' prediction of immortality shattered.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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