Chichester Festival’s sell-out production of Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart in the title role, transferred last night (26 September 2007, previews from 24 September) to the West End’s Gielgud Theatre, where it runs for ten weeks only to 1 December (See Also Today’s 1st Night Photos).

Macbeth marks the third Bard turn in the West End this year for Patrick Stewart. Just prior to Chichester this summer, where he also appeared in Twelfth Night, he was at the Novello Theatre from January through to March in the Royal Shakespeare Company transfers of Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest (See News, 25 Aug 2006). The latter was directed by Headlong artistic director Rupert Goold, who has also directed Macbeth.

The director’s wife Kate Fleetwood plays Lady Macbeth in a cast that also includes Michael Feast (Macduff), Martin Turner (Banquo), Paul Shelley (Duncan), Scott Handy (Malcolm), Tim Treloar (Ross) and Suzanne Burden (Lady Macduff). Goold’s expressionistic 1940s-dress staging sets the story in an East European, Stalinist state.

The production won almost universal raves – and plentiful five-star ratings – from overnight critics. It’s the “Macbeth of a lifetime”, trumpeted the Evening Standard’s Nicholas de Jongh. Those who had seen it in Chichester deemed the transfer “triumphant”, enjoying the highly “inventive” direction of Rupert Goold and the “brilliant” acting even more on second viewing. Patrick Stewart’s performance was hailed as, perhaps, the best of his career, with his Macbeth well matched by Kate Fleetwood’s Lady M. Amongst the supporting roles, Michael Feast, Martin Turner and Tim Treloar were frequently singled out for kudos, while Anthony Ward’s abattoir design and Adam Cork’s “deeply unsettling” also added greatly to the atmosphere for critics.

  • Michael Coveney on (five stars) - “There are so many brilliant ideas in Rupert Goold’s production of Macbeth … that you wonder if the whole thing can hang together. It does, just about, because the jolting of the nightmare Eastern European tyranny of Macbeth up against the insistent contrast between Scotland and England in the second half of the play survives all the wrenches forced upon it by the concept. And the whole evening is so exciting … The Indian summer of Patrick Stewart’s stage career continues with his utterly convincing poet soldier whose uncanny facial resemblance to Lenin makes his great-coated bluster and cold-blooded perseverance all the more terrifying. His level of performance is matched by Kate Fleetwood’s square-jawed, slinky Lady Macbeth, a trophy wife who finds her social climbing ambitions running out of control … When Stewart delivers the ‘Tomorrow’ dirge to his wife’s corpse stretched out on a trolley, it really is like watching the end of an era in, say, Romania or former Yugoslavia. As a political thriller, this Macbeth combines all the elements of the corrupt tyranny envisaged by George Orwell and expressed again in the great recent movie The Lives of Others. Plus you get Shakespeare’s ineffable poetry!”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (five stars) – “Transferring a play is a tricky business. But in its move from the Minerva Chichester to the refurbished Gielgud, Rupert Goold's spellbinding Macbeth has lost none of its visceral excitement, political resonance or textual clarity … What captures the imagination is Goold's ability to contextualise … Directorial inventiveness is also matched by brilliant acting. Patrick Stewart's Macbeth starts as a reflective soldier who pauses before using the word ‘murder’, and develops into an insecure monster whose most chilling tactic is a dangerous levity. Stewart has done nothing finer, and he is superbly partnered by Kate Fleetwood's Lady M, whose capacity to imagine dashing out her child's brains is an index of a deeply disturbed mind. Michael Feast's Macduff, reacting to the reported death of his own children with a weighted silence, also invests the character with an agonising sense of guilt. Martin Turner's Banquo and Tim Treloar's Ross add to the atmosphere of feverish suspicion, and Adam Cork's music and sound design are imbued with gothic horror. A traditionally difficult play is magnificently realised.”

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “What bloody man is that? It's a blood-splattered Patrick Stewart, that's who, giving a truly great performance in Rupert Goold's brilliantly inventive, heart-stoppingly scary production of Shakespeare's portrait of a serial killer … There is barely a longueur in Goold's three-hour production, which is almost indecently packed with inspired ideas. In Anthony Ward's superbly disconcerting design almost all the action is set in some hellish subterranean kitchen … The production, inspired by both the Stalinist terror and Orwell's 1984, shows how Macbeth builds a tyranny of fear in which surveillance, torture and random killings are routine. With its frequent use of video, Adam Cork's deeply unsettling electronic score, and constant jolting coups de theatre, the play owes a debt to both classic film noir and Quentin Tarantino … So charismatic is Stewart as an actor, that he can make the simple act of preparing a ham sandwich one of the scariest things you've ever seen. But his Macbeth is much more than some psycho killer from a B movie. Stewart recognises that the tragedy of Macbeth is that he always understood the consequences of killing and in the later scenes, in his beautifully delivered soliloquies, he shows a man who realises he has rendered his life meaningless by his actions … There is outstanding support right through the ranks … This is the greatest production of Macbeth I have ever seen.”

  • Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (five stars) – “Rupert Goold's Macbeth of a lifetime is almost permanently set in the vicinity of a kitchen sink and a refrigerator. It manages, though, freshly to convey the elemental sense of surprise, shock and supernatural horror that must have attended the tragedy's early 17th-century performances and has long since been lost. Transferred from Chichester's Minerva studio, where critics and audiences were enraptured, Goold's production maintains its mesmerising power on the Gielgud's larger, conventional, proscenium space. Patrick Stewart's Macbeth, the instigator of these atrocities, catches both the man's fanaticism and his vacillating anguish. I have not seen a production of the play which makes you so aware of the precarious balance of power that exists between the couple or the way in which domestic, metaphysical and murderous concerns jostle for attention … As if hypnotised by the hectoring voluptuousness and mocking vehemence of Kate Fleetwood's steely, self-sacrificial Lady Macbeth he embarks upon murder with reluctance. Both actors thrillingly register the fragility of their nerves as the bloody deed is done and they rinse trembling, bloody hands in the kitchen sink … This historic production enjoys a perfect thrill-factor.”

  • Benedict Nightingale in The Times (three stars) – “Questions must be asked of a revival that won uniform raves at Chichester during my summer break. Isn’t it desperately busy and sometimes distractingly fussy? It amazes me that Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood give such fine performances when (for instance) one is required to uncork and pour wine for his guests during a major soliloquy and the other to dive and quake beneath a trolley just after Duncan’s murder. It’s all gloriously inventive … It’s also all very political … But Goold’s production is more notable for fitful brilliance than for consistency of approach or fidelity to the text’s demands. Yet maybe we should blame Shakespeare, not Goold, if we can’t fully understand why Fleetwood, at first as splendidly fearsome a Lady Macbeth as I’ve seen, ends up washing her hands with bleach beneath a tap spouting blood. The hints of vulnerability in between can’t explain so huge a transition. As for Stewart … it’s a remarkable performance: successively wry, watchful, grieving, angry, astonished, agonised, dangerous, exhausted, bitter, nihilistic. But the suggestion that he’s another Stalin is another example of over-clever direction. Stewart is a lot more interesting than that.”

    - by Terri Paddock