James McAvoy & Claire Foy (photo: Johan Persson)
"I am in blood," says Macbeth. And he certainly is: there's scarcely any time when he isn't walking around blood-besmirched or dodging blood dripping from the ceiling.
Director Jamie Lloyd's opening production at 'Traf Transformed' is set in a dystopian Scotland of the future, one that looks like it's suffered an apocalyptic disaster. It's a pretty bleak vision, where most of the action takes place in semi-darkness.
Like Rupert Goold's 2007 Chichester production, designer Soutra Gilmour has conjured up an industrial wasteland where action is interrupted by crackling lights and every actor appears to be clad in grey, industrial overalls.
Into this stygian gloom bursts 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. McAvoy has plenty of swagger but neatly demonstrates his disgust with the man that he has become and the course he has felt compelled to follow.
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. But the couple's childishness is played up hauntingly and there's palpable sense of loss, emphasised by Macbeth's hesitation over the killing of Macduff's son, a particularly gut-wrenching moment.
Lloyd ensures that Macbeth is treated suspiciously very early on: Banquo packs his bags with supplies of food as he seeks to make his getaways and Jamie Ballard's Macduff is dripping with contempt as he makes plain his reluctance to attend the coronation. Ballard comes into his own in the scene where he learns of the death of his family, his emotional intensity exacerbating the tragedy.
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.
- Maxwell Cooter