Did the critics murder Macbeth?
Find out what the reviews said of Rufus Norris' return to Shakespeare
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"I admire [Rufus Norris] for taking Lady Macbeth's advice and screwing his courage to the sticking place. But he has failed. This production is a misjudged mess, a horror show in all the wrong ways, and a terrible waste of the acting talents of Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff."
"What is so dismaying is the lack of coherence. Interesting ideas flash by and then are lost in a welter of gory special effects. Speeches are shouted from poles or platforms at the back of the stage and you realise that even though you have listened carefully you haven't understood a word."
"Worst of all, in a text that has been heavily cut, the witches have their dialogue so brutally truncated that the play's constant dualism, its assertion that "fair is foul and foul is fair" and thus its great moral debate about the corrupting effects of evil are entirely lost."
Michael Billington, The Guardian
"Norris's production is not defined by time or place: it is simply set in a barbaric world afflicted by civil war. The first thing we see is a soldier, whom we deduce to be Macbeth, tearing down the curved, metallic ramp that dominates Rae Smith's set and decapitating the rebel leader."
"I assume Norris's intention is to show us the destructiveness of a male-dominated militarism. But this ignores the religious sanctions that haunt the text and turn Macbeth into a fallen Lucifer, conscious of trumpet-tongued angels and his own immortal soul."
"If I was moved, it was mainly by the numbed horror with which Patrick O'Kane's Macduff reacted to the news of his family's slaughter."
"But, while the production is vigorously staged, it squeezes the play into a rigid concept and in the process sacrifices its tonal contrasts and mysterious poetry."
Henry Hitchings, The Evening Standard
"In the title role Rory Kinnear is a man of intense appetites who's always on the move. Kinnear has a handsome record as a Shakespearean lead, but here despite his usual dextrous way with the language there's not enough sense of the dense geography of Macbeth's inner life."
"Norris's concept doesn't hold together. A vast ramp dominates the stage, more like an obstacle than a springboard. Rae Smith's design has a Mad Max aesthetic — concrete bunkers and grungy clothes — yet also suggests a recent raid on the store cupboard, featuring ugly swathes of bin bags and sickly trees that look like giant mops. When the Macbeths have a banquet it's more like an impromptu rave round the back of a burger van."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"We are in a sort of vaguely post-apocalyptic Scotland (not that there's anything particularly Scottish about it). It looks quite cool in a Mad Max sort of way. But after years of smart, revelatory excavations of Shakespeare's works by Hytner (plus decent recent stabs from Polly Findlay and Simon Godwin), it feels like a big problem that the setup here is essentially meaningless – signifying nothing."
"Most fatally, talented leads Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff just seem to be in the wrong show. Kinnear in particular is a brilliant Shakespearean whose Hamlet and Iago burned up this stage. But he's a naturalistic actor. Here he seems to interpret the murderous Scottish lord as a dithering bureaucrat who develops a Stalin-like paranoia after Duff's Lady Macbeth persuades him to off King Duncan and claim the Scottish throne."
"Toss in some baffling cuts to the text that don't seem to serve much purpose beyond wrestling the running time down a bit and you're stuck with a big, blasted mess of a show."
Holly Williams, The Independent
"So, Macbeth isn't going to be the magic solution to Rufus Norris' struggle with the Olivier. After a series of flops (Salome, Common, Saint George and the Dragon), the supernatural favourite must have seemed like a Shakespearean safe bet. "
"Lady Macbeth is played by Anne-Marie Duff – expectations high, given this is surely a dream pairing. She's focussed and flinty, but the expected sparks don't quite fly."
"Partly that's due to Norris' driving concept. These are desperate people living in desperate times. The Macbeths are broke: they live out of a suitcase in a tiny breezeblock hut. Her clothes are torn; his armor strapped on with parcel tape."
"The witches are played by three young women; two have a portentous gravitas while a third – Hannah Hutch, superbly creepy – twitches and runs and giggles like a disturbed child... It strays a little close to camply comic horror movie, but stays just on the side of chilling."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"On the evidence of this woeful Macbeth, the pressure is on the NT's artistic director once again, undertaking his first Shakespeare in 25 years and seemingly restoring the curse to the Olivier that has blighted so many shows here of late."
"Rae Smith's ugly-to-behold set is dominated by an oppressive backdrop of raven-black hangings (think seaweed crossed with shredded bin-liner) and distinguished by a sloping, shifting wooden walkway. The ambience is Mad Max meets infernal recycling pit, and a further sense of budget dystopian TV is afforded by the scavenger costuming: grubby jeans, combat gear, old coats, makeshift garments. Bald-pated, bearded and stiff-limbed, Kinnear is all nondescript machismo (very Steve McFadden), breast-plate gaffered to his belly."
"The evening begins and ends with a gruesome simulated decapitation. I'm not saying Norris's head should roll, but dark and bloody thoughts may seize those, like me, left mightily unmoved and unharrowed."
Macbeth runs at the National Theatre until 23 June.