Macbeth at the Queen's Theatre
It's not only the raven who croaks himself hoarse in this production of Macbeth. Rufus Sewell has obviously decided that the way to play Shakespeare or, more particularly, Macbeth, is to shout very loudly as much as possible. Consequently, many of his soliloquies are delivered in a kind of throaty bellow. It's rather as if he followed the Spinal Tap dictum and turned everything up to volume 11.
Of course, he could have been shouting in order to make himself heard over the sound of the Queen's audience. It's not often that the audience is mentioned in a review, but I can't resist - the level of noise on this occasion was disgraceful. What with mobile phones ringing, long conversations going on and a cacophony of coughing, it's a wonder that any of the production could be heard at all.
The real pity of all this is that there are some very good things about this Macbeth. Jeremy Herbert s set, bathed in shadows and a blood-red hue, is superbly evocative, and special mention should go to Rick Fisher s atmospheric lighting.
But the real standout performance is Sally Dexter s Lady Macbeth. This is a revelation. In turn highly sexy and truly scary, Dexter dominates her scenes with Sewell. When she wishes to be filled with direst cruelty, you can believe it. It's certainly clear why her husband is in thrall to her. The sleep-weeping scene is particularly well done. Appearing with hands, bandaged from over-enthusiastic rubbing, she, for the first time, presents a truly vulnerable figure. It's a scene that often defeats a production of Macbeth (perhaps it's been parodied too much), but this time there's a real sense of overwhelming guilt.
The other memorable performance is that of Declan Conlon s Macduff. His learning of the death of his family is by far the most moving moment of the play. The rest of the cast are barely adequate. The three witches are far too young and about as eerie as a group of sixth-formers round a ouija board. And even worse are the two murderers, who couldn't out-menace Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot Men. Rather than vilely incensed by the blows and buffets of the world, their tone suggests more a pair of commuters wearied by the delays to the 8:14. In fact, the quality of the supporting cast is uniformly poor, with too many completely mangling the verse.
And yet, there's enough in John Crowley s direction to make this an interesting evening - and with a bit more care, it could have been really good. It's important that Shakespeare makes it to the West End, but if it's to be successful it must do better than this.