The latest offering as part of the NT Live screenings is Shakespeare’s MACBETH .
This production as directed by Rufus Norris and starring Rory Kinnear and Anne- Marie Duff is bloody , violent bleak and set in a ‘timeless’ post-civil war /futuristic world .
Kinnear and Duff are excellent and give strong performances , leading the talented ensemble (most of whom double/triple roles ) in their uneasy nightmarish universe.
The evening begins and ends cyclically with a gruesome simulated decapitation.
The set design by Rae Smith has a black backdrop and a large sloping shifting ramp. It also includes concrete bunker like designs , shredded bin liners, trees that look like giant mops, well worn weather beaten clothes and lots of garbage bags – creating an atmosphere of jagged uneasiness and contemporary decay (Dunsinane is perhaps a partly destroyed housing estate) blended with Gothicky eeriness.
Much use is made of the revolve. James Farncombe’s lighting is atmospheric and cheerless with some most effective use of theatrical haze. Some of the visual images – disturbing Janos- faced doll like -masks for the parade of Banquo’s heirs for example, towering poles that are shimmied up – hint at African voodoo influences, while the score is a chilling dirge and squall of clarinet and horn.
Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff give well thought performances, shot through with apprehension, yet revealing the warm chemistry between them. In this desolate world the Macbeths are now poor, living in a small hut and with somewhat ragged clothes – Macbeth has to be strapped into his armour with packing tape. Kinnear portrays Macbeth as bald-headed soldier, tough and macho who descends into madness and paranoia. When we first see him he is all cheery and good hearted but events twist to go against him. His monologues are often done spotlight alone while the other cast members are in frozen tableaux.
Duff as Lady Macbeth is steely and single minded, full of ambition yet from the start we sense her fragility and vulnerability. Her eyes are bruised with pain. She is horrified at her husband’s unravelling. Her sleeping walking scene is harrowing .
The Porter in this production becomes rather a central figure. Norris has blended him with other attendants so that the Porter becomes a sort of trampish derelict spying chorus figure who observes the multiple murders, ( sneakily passing Macbeth a bloody cloth left behind for example after Duncan’s death ) portrayed here by Trevor Fox with a sardonic Geordie accent .
Bearded Patrick O’Kane gives a fine performance as Macduff, full of volcanic hidden emotion and bitterness while Stephen Boxer is refined and regal as a dignified Duncan in a red suit (the red suit representing kingship). Kevin Harvey as Banquo is charming and charismatic – when his Ghost appears he is zombie like. Malcolm is portrayed by Bollywood handsome Parth Thakerar.
But I wouldn’t hire the murderers Macbeth uses – street people who will cheerfully kill for drink and or drugs … sorry it just doesn’t quite work .
The weird sisters (the witches) are played by three young women; two have an ominous dignity while the third – Hannah Hutch, scuttles and twitches as if slightly crazy. Do they in fact control the entire sequence of events ?
In this dark, bleak version MACBETH shows the perils of over ambition, the dangers of placing personal agendas ahead of loyalty to one’s country, and illustrates the concept that disastrous government and circumstances result from illegitimate rule .
Running time – with cinema ads allow three hours with one interval. There is a short documentary on ‘the making of ‘ behind the scenes of the production …