Despite being, obviously, a hugely famous play, I have never studied Shakespeare’s Macbeth and nor have I ever seen a production of it. So when the National announced a production starring Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, I was all over getting tickets.
In case you’re also not so up on Macbeth, the play follows Macbeth (Rory Kinnear) who is returning from fighting for Scotland in a war when he comes across three weird sisters/witches. They tell him that he will soon receive a title, and will ultimately become king. At first he dismisses their ideas, but when the king, Duncan (Stephen Boxer) bestows a title on him he begins to think the witches might be telling the truth. When he shares their prophecy with his wife (Anne-Marie Duff), she encourages him to use more murderous means to gain and retain power.
The play itself is, obviously, fascinating. The character of Lady Macbeth feels incredibly modern, and her desperation for her husband to ‘be more of a man’ and follow through on what he says he will do. In a way, Macbeth is similar to Hamlet in his dithering; but ultimately becomes obsessed with retaining his position, and no matter how well he knows someone if they’re a barrier, they’re gone.
But despite the great text, there is something about this production that just feels a little…off. Rufus Norris places his production in the near future; there’s been some kind of civil war and the world left behind is one that is empty and stark. Rae Smith’s set designs seem to be predominantly made of bin liners, and there is no hint of royalty coming with plush surroundings. This does place a bit of a question mark as to why the Macbeths are so desperate to gain power, aside from power itself, when it has no discernible difference to their lives (aside from Kinnear sporting a red suit). The off-kilter feel is really increased through Orlando Gough’s score which feels continually ominous. All that being said; this almost-dystopian setting meant that Macbeth’s descent didn’t feel that surprising, frankly anyone could go a bit mad in such a setting, which did detract a little from the main story arc. There’s also a bit of an odd cut for the interval, meaning that the second act speeds by whilst act one feels like it really drags.
The qualms with the production aside, there are good performances from the cast. Rory Kinnear is a compelling Macbeth, an everyman whose increasing paranoia takes him over. Anne-Marie Duff is excellent as his wife, moving from being the ambitious woman behind the throne, to being haunted by their actions. There are also good performances from Patrick O’Kane as Macduff whose grief is brilliantly portrayed and Trevor Fox in the always tricky ‘comedy’ role which is a good physical performance.
Having not seen any other productions of Macbeth, I did quite like this just an opportunity to see one of Shakespeare’s plays, but I’m not quite sure if I’d recommend it if you are familiar with the text.