This Macbeth is not a production about which anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with, or feeling for, Shakespeare is likely to be equivocal.
It’s many and manifest faults proclaim themselves from the rooftops as do, unfortunately, most of the cast, Jude Akuwudike (as Banquo) a notable exception to the near universal ranting and roaring. Also endemic is the tendency by the cast to break lines at the expense both of the rhythm and the sense of the text.
The production, in fact, falls at the first hurdle with a dumb show of director Conall Morrison’s devising which prefaces the play proper. Macbeth (played by Patrick O'Kane) is shown leading the massacre of men, women and even an infant. On his departure, three of the slain women rise to their feet and take on the role of witches. What ensues is their revenge on Macbeth for the Herodic slaughter.
This has three, fatal, consequences for the play: it robs Macbeth of free will and reduces him to a mere pawn – the witches are on stage virtually throughout and manipulate all of what follows; his depiction as a cold-blooded killer from the outset makes nonsense of his subsequent qualms about murdering Duncan; and finally, whereas Shakespeare showed that a single act of evil is enough to set in course a chain of events which can fatally destabilise a society, Morrison gives us one already steeped in cruelty and violence, a decision which effectively lets Macbeth - and us - off the hook.
In mitigation, the production has undeniable vigour and pace and is strongly designed and lit by Tom Piper and Ben Ormerod, respectively. And when the volume and adrenalin levels abate, things definitely improve. Unfortunately, not only does peace come dropping slowly here, it rarely hangs around for long.
For, whereas Shakespeare gives us an unworldly, devout Duncan, here, David Troughton is a bull of a man who most likely got his crown by violence. The role of the Porter is divided between the three witches who deliver the unfunniest ‘knock, knock, knock’ scene I have ever seen. I could go on.
Perhaps most damningly, there is no tangible sense of what Orson Welles termed the 'Touch of Evil’; no whiff of sulphur here. It’s not that the production is dim-witted; rather it’s too clever for its own good. In pursuing his big idea, Morrison loses sight of the basics; what we get, alas, is Macbeth’s shadow.
- Pete Wood