With the opening of the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the start of their 50th anniversary season, the Royal Shakespeare Company should be about to embark on a new phase of their history with renewed vigour, confidence and excitement. Does artistic director Michael Boyd's new production of Macbeth really capture that new spirit?
I have to say that the answer is a rather disappointed no.
There is much to admire about the new space. It does mark a refinement of what audiences had come to love about the temporary Courtyard, and Boyd makes use of the tricks he developed during the Histories cycle to ensure that the cast and audience very much feel that they are sharing the same world as the action develops.
Aesthetically, the production is exactly what you would expect from the company working at their very best. Tom Piper's set evokes a battle-scarred church to perfection and the costumes show the wardrobe department at the top of their game – with just the right Jacobean styling throughout.
Where things start to fall apart is in the direction and the acting. I very much admired Jonathan Slinger's work as Richard III – capturing the black humour of that character perfectly. But as the noble thane, he lacks the physicality of the warrior to really convince. His control of the verse is sound and his ability to convey the tortured soul of a man in torment is beyond doubt, but it does not yet add up to a complete Macbeth for me. He is ably supported by Aislin McGuckin as his wife, but again the elements of her performance do not coalesce into a fully-rendered Lady Macbeth.
Probably the biggest talking point of the production will be centred around Boyd's decision to re-imagine the witches as the Weird Children – stripping out all of the traditional supernatural elements other than their prophetic pronouncements. On the whole, this works very well (and the young actors cope admirably with what is a very demanding production for them), but comes adrift in the second half when their identities are revealed. This causes a number of structural problems that the production ultimately fails to solve.
There are some truly excellent moments. The conflation of the Porter with the character of Seyton is particularly interesting, and Jamie Beamish relishes his opportunities to revel in the necessary humour and malevolence. I also welcome the expansion of the role of Lady Macduff (the excellent Caroline Martin) – establishing her as a very powerful presence in the unravelling of the narrative.
Boyd's production marks a starting point for the RSC in their new home. It is flawed and will provoke much discussion – and there is only one thing worse than being talked about...