The appearance of summer weather, welcomed by all, actually does a disservice to this, one of the darkest of tragedies. Mike Britton’s set, dominated by a white-picketed stockade, does not chime in with the sense of menace that pervades the play, a matter not helped by the blazing sunshine.
Indeed, Best’s production is packed full of humour – even the appearance of Banquo’s ghost at the banquet is greeted with gales of laughter. It’s the point in the play that marks the transformation of Macbeth from murderer to tyrant, yet it’s treated like something from a sitcom.
The tone is set when Banquo and Macbeth greet the witches’ prophecies with hysterical guffawing and from then on, there seems to be the desire for a laugh every few minutes. However, Bette Bourne’s Porter certainly delivers the goods in the accepted comic part of the play, causing Macduff to corpse momentarily.
All this levity means that we can’t really appreciate Macbeth’s descent from national hero to bloodthirsty dictator, but then Joseph Millson does not really convince as a martial hero, even if there are flashes of temper that mar the smooth demeanour.
For example, we see Millson’s Macbeth near-strangling his wife when talking of night’s black agents while Samantha Spiro‘s Lady Macbeth overplays the strong and determined woman and presents herself more as a nagging, hectoring harpy. There’s little sign of domestic bliss in the household; perhaps Best’s thesis is that a couple at war with each other will find it easier to progress to a few murders.
There are certainly some strong points to the production. The witches are a rich mix of influences: a touch of paganism here, a sliver of Satanism there – collecting the bodies of the slain like Valkyries – and their scenes are quite unsettling. There’s a strong Banquo from Billy Boyd, and a bluff, plain-speaking Macduff, courtesy of Stuart Bowman. And I liked Gawn Grainger’s gentle and slightly doddery Duncan and Philip Cumbus’ Malcolm, a soft-spoken chip-off-the-old block – even if he does have the air of a Californian transcendental meditation teacher than a Scottish aristocrat.
Best of all is Olly Fox’s music which really enhances the action – from the low drone that accompanies the first mention of Macbeth’s name to the skirl of pipes and drums that drive the action forward.