Jamie Lloyd's production of Macbeth opened last week at the Trafalgar Studios (22 February 2013), the first of a series of Lloyd-helmed productions in the newly-reconfigured venue.
Designed by Soutra Gilmour, it runs until April 27.
James McAvoy's Macbeth, a bristling, boisterous, blood-splattered presence... It's a performance of macho intensity, with a slight hint of homoeroticism in his relationship with Forbes Masson's Banquo. Claire Foy's Lady Macbeth's Scottish accent wavers a bit too much and I missed the driving ambition that powers the couple towards the fateful act Lloyd's vision is a bold one and he does create a real horror show, high on visual impact and with some decent performances. The biggest drawback is the length - this is a production that clocks in at just under three hours, which is too drawn-out for one of Shakespeare's shortest plays. It goes against the recent fashion for dispensing with the interval and the production loses a bit of its punch for that. But it's a promising start for the newly-developed theatre and Shakespeare in the West End is always to be welcomed.
This isn't the first time James McAvoy has played Macbeth... His performance was raw and compelling, and those adjectives are again appropriate as he reprises the role with fearless, sinewy conviction. Alongside him, Claire Foy is a wiry, driven Lady Macbeth. The relationship between them doesn't always pulse with attraction but Foy is eloquent and persuasive. They are well supported, a few wonky Scottish accents notwithstanding. Jamie Ballard is a tearful, vivid Macduff, Forbes Masson a passionate Banquo, and Hugh Ross a discreetly saintly Duncan. The atmosphere is more intimate than before, and also more versatile - with characters entering and exiting at 16 different points. It's a welcome overhaul for this somewhat tricky space, and Lloyd launches his tenure with a noisy, urgent, populist account of this perennially watchable play.
...it is one more step in the commercial theatre's realisation that its future lies in artistic continuity. But, although it's a good occasion, there's a relentlessly visceral quality to Lloyd's production that eventually becomes a bit wearing. McAvoy stays absolutely true to Lloyd's concept by offering us a Macbeth who is almost brutally physical: the kind of "strong man" who seizes power in a tottering realm. Where McAvoy, and the production, falls down is in capturing the wasted potential and hidden spirituality of a Macbeth who can talk of "heaven's cherubin" and describe his soul as "mine eternal jewel". For all its hectic quality, there is much to savour in this production. McAvoy is exciting to watch. Claire Foy, although costumed like a garage mechanic, conveys Lady M's increasing isolation from her husband. If you like violent, in-yer-face Shakespeare, this will be for you. But I still think three hours is too long...
The stage has been raised by more than two metres, and extended out into the auditorium, bringing spectators closer to the action... It all makes for a powerful theatrical impact in this most scary and claustrophobic... The cast are dressed in bedraggled clothes that look like rejects from the Oxfam shop, while the Macbeths’ castle, with an on stage lavatory into which Macbeth pukes violently before killing Duncan, is more squalid that a student flat during the Edinburgh Fringe. My chief grouse is that, with a running time of three hours, the production sometimes misses the hurtling momentum of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy.
There is a time near the end of this noisiest of evenings, when in eerie silence James McAvoy slumps on a battered chair, machete on his lap... It is riveting. McAvoy gives it all that Shakespeare offers, and redeems my earlier doubts. Yes, he is a Macbeth worth seeing, though one that is not for the fainthearted. And Claire Foy’s Lady Macbeth is a revelation: a teenage virago, unsettled and psychotic. Lloyd has a knack of creating intensity (most recently in the Old Vic’s Duchess of Malfi) and hysteria gets almost too tightly wound in the first half. And so the endgame: mesmerising quiet before battle, a final brawl as the front rows cower from axe and machete, a warpainted Macduff in a garotting grapple, and McAvoy — clearly not a man to flinch from physical pain — tipped headfirst down one of the witches’ trapdoors until his horrid severed head is brought aloft.
...You could say that he is always the man of action even when laying bare – in incisive and pungently Scots-accented verse-speaking – the knotty nuances of his innermost fears and torments. And the actor makes that seem perfectly natural in a gripping, no-holds-barred performance that will impress fans of his work in the X-Men movies and unlock for youthful newcomers to Shakespeare some of the poetic and psychological riches of the play. For my taste, the production is a wee bit over-the-top but there are sequences where it achieves an extraordinary thematic penetration. The staging does not perhaps allow the leading actor to explore deeply enough the way that Macbeth becomes the burnt-out observer of his own growing inability to feel. But McAvoy's Thane shows a taste for black humour from the outset and an inclination to retreat into defensively sardonic laughter...