There’s an intelligent production. There’s also an intelligible one. No-one can doubt the intelligence of Declan Donnellan’s 2009 staging of Macbeth for his own Cheek by Jowl company, now briefly revived in Cambridge. Intelligible is another matter; the Arts Theatre audience is not one normally inclined to vociferate over inaudibility. An interval-less two hours’ stage traffic such as this production needs to keep the spectators as involved as the players.
In many ways, Donnellan's is an operatic approach. Many two-person exchanges as well as soliloquies are delivered from the front of the stage. Nick Ormerod’s setting offers us black-clad actors hedged in by dark-grey tower-blocks of scaffolding. The costumes are timeless, with the exception of Kelly Hotten’s porter, a red-haired harridan ensconced in a bright booth as though regulating entrance to the most louche of discos.
Will Keen makes Macbeth into a man promoted beyond his capabilities, knowing this, and yet hungry for power and office (not necessarily the same thing). Ryan Kiggell’s bluff Banquo suffers from no such queasiness. The difference between the two men is well brought out, both in their conversations and in their attitude to Duncan (David Collings), a blind autocrat in more senses than one.
Sweeping through her castles like a malevolent force of nature, Anastasia Hille makes Lady Macbeth a sexual as well as ambitious woman. Her mental disintegration culminates in the sleep-walking scene, here less a piece of grand theatre than the expression of a sense of pent-up, down-thrust despair. In her end, the murder of Lady Macduff weighs heavier on her soul than that of Duncan.
Orlando James makes much of Malcolm’s Act Four testing of Macduff’ (David Caves)’ loyalty. The final fight between Macbeth and his nemesis shows that simulated violence (we hear the rasp of broadswords being unsheathed and the clang as they clash together, but see none) can work just as potently in the audience’s imagination as real steel and a fully choreographed duel.