This Macbeth was set in a dystopian future, and it was a violent and fast-moving production. I had a stage seat, and I was in the middle of the second row on an aisle. This meant that I had a very good view of both the actors and the audience. The reviews have picked up that this was a very bloody production and there was lots of stage blood. Other bloggers teased me with the prospect of being covered in blood. However, I ended up with a little speck on my hand, and the ushers kindly assured us that if we got any blood on us it would wash out.
I felt that the production was unnerving and shocking, and even the crashing opening jerked me. As I was sat in the middle of the stage and being so close to the actors, there was a real sense of this being a performance and that I was constantly being reminded that I was in a theatre and seeing an illusion. I loved the rawness of the theatre space around me and being so aware building itself with its black painted walls and the props placed around the entrance to the stage. At one point the back of the stage opened and revealed the street outside. The masks worn at points in the production were also a reminder that this was theatre and a show, and added to the overall unnerving grotesque aesthetic of the production.
As the production clearly referenced metatheatre, I had hoped that the production might have involved the audience more than it did, and I think the actors tended to act as if there wasn’t an audience.
There were some interesting doubling. For example, the actors who played the witches, also played Banquo’s murderers. This made sense, but I wasn’t clear whether all the doubling choices had some meaning or they were just pragmatic doubling because of the size of the cast. The same women who had played the witches and the murderers also played Macbeth’s attendants, and one of the reasons that I would question that we were meant to think they were the witches was the look of despair on the women’s faces in the final scenes when it was clear that Macbeth would be defeated. If they were shape-shifting witches masquerading as attendants maybe they would have looked delighted that their plan had worked. The other problem with the doubling was I had been trying to believe that Lady Macduff was also a witch, and this didn’t work for me so probably not the case, but I could believe that she was a warrior as she sat beside her husband in Macbeth’s castle.
In this production, the supernatural was played down. For example, there wasn’t an air drawn dagger. In the scene where Macbeth returns to the witches we don’t see the visions. The scene becomes Macbeth drinking the witches’ potion and becoming physically ill as well as hallucinating. Without the supernatural being emphasised, it felt as if the characters had more control over their futures and there were clear choices to be made. The horror around them was of their own making.
In the English scenes, the lights went up and the house was illuminated, but this wasn’t a promised end. England felt just as bleak in a futuristic England as it did in Scotland. At the end of the play we were left feeling there would be little change. The violence that had defeated Macbeth would continue to contribute to this horrific vision of a future Scotland. It felt the ending reflected the start of the play where Macbeth had defeated Cawdor and we had seen the bloody soldier. Macduff (Jamie Ballard) felt so hurt and angry that he was now set on a path of violence and revenge which would continue after Mabeth’s death.
There were some strong performances. Forbes Masson was an older Banquo. As a ghost he chides Macbeth, and his ghostly presence is as violent as his earthly and he thirst for combat and revenge is still there. Jamie Ballard played an extremely emotional Macduff and Claire Foy was a Lady Macbeth that was at her best in the scenes when Macbeth becomes increasingly isolated.
I felt that James McAvoy dominated this production. With his ginger beard, he was a constant presence and extremely active. There was a moment where he hesitated when he heard Macduff’s son speak from his hiding place cupboard. For a moment, I thought that Macbeth would leave the boy, but after a pause, he turned back and savagely killed the boy. McAvoy hesitation on ‘tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow’, felt strange, but at the same time kept the focus on McAvoy and his internal turmoil. It was so different from Jonathan Slinger in Michael Boyd’s 2011 production who was almost drunk on the violence said the lines boldly from a swing. McAvoy played Macbeth as if he might change his mind and renounce the violence at anytime, but had been pushed to behave in this way because it was expected by the society he was part of. It felt that the only way this Macbeth could have survived was to have had some power and control.
Unfortunately, I won’t get chance to see this again, but when I did see it, I enjoyed the experience and relished the chance to sit on stage and be in the middle of the action.
Further Information, Previews and Reviews
Review: Macbeth starring James McAvoy, Trafalgar Studio 1, London – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent