Macbeth is likely one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies; a 10th-century king driven to extreme lengths to obtain and retain his crown with cackling witches, superstition, murder and bloodshed.
The latest interpretation can be seen in London’s National Theatre on the beautiful South Bank; directed by Rufus Norris and designed by Rae Smith (of Warhorse fame – more on that soon) it is a modernisation of a true classic.
Set in a dystopian future, after a civil war leaves Britain unrecognisable, this is a dark and unique interpretation. With a pitch-black, rotating stage adorned with simple sets, it harnesses the imagination and explores the tensions in Shakespeare’s play in a very new, very different, apocalyptic setting.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it up to London to see this performance; sometimes living outside of the capital can leave you feeling like you miss out on the culture taking place in the big smoke. However, all is not lost.
You may remember back in November, when I saw Follies in Eastleigh, that the National Theatre broadcast their shows live across the country with NTLive, enabling us lot in other towns and cities to enjoy shows we may not be able to see otherwise – from the comfort of our local cinema or theatre.
Southampton’s brand new NST City venue brings this possibility to the city I live in, which means I don’t have to miss any shows again. Wonderful stuff.
I attended the NTLive broadcast of Macbeth this week with an open mind; I watched the trailers, tried to remember what I could about the plot from my school days (hint: not a lot), and settled down with hundreds of others across the UK to watch.
It took me a while to get into the swing of things; staying true to script, we are launched straight into the action, with war and conflict and bloodshed and prophecy. Not only did I need to remember who was who, and what was what, but the unfamiliar staging did throw me for a little while, and I grasped at the familiar scenes while trying to keep up with the symbols and strangeness of this performance.
The staging, as I have said, was clever; I love a minimalist, intricate set design, open to interpretation, and the way it moved from open space to battleground, to home, was clever, and the rotating stage added to this. Watching it on the big screen, too, meant you got to see the action close up, so you never missed a tiny detail.
The costume design was great too. Bearing in mind the dystopian setting, outfits were cobbled together from every-day, recognisable clothing, with bits added and removed and adapted to suit a new, military purpose. It’s a make-do-and-mend lifestyle, feral, with modern luxuries removed. It was clear who was a soldier, who was a king, and who was a witch, without obvious crowns, uniforms or props.
That brings me nicely onto the cast. The acting in this performance was fantastic. Rory Kinnear as Macbeth himself was strong and confident and portrayed the descent into madness and desperation very well; Anne-Marie Duff was also excellent as the scheming and doomed Lady Macbeth. I also loved Kevin Harvey’s Banquo, and Patrick O’Kane as Macduff was wonderfully vengeful.
I was left a little disappointed by the three witches. I did think they fitted in with this strange new setting well in a mysterious and damaged way, but I would have liked them to have had a more powerful stage presence – perhaps as was originally intended by the playwright. They were flighty and elusive, and it was a little hard to really appreciate them with such a fleeting glimpse.
I am a big fan of interpretations of Shakespeare – last week’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was marvellous, and I remember falling in love with an African version of The Tempest at school. I don’t think this was my favourite; that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but I felt it was almost too futuristic and unusual. With Shakespeare, I think, a little extra help to set the scene is needed. Perhaps it was trying too hard, or perhaps I am just not a fan of dystopian stories. Either way, I found it a little hard to keep up at times.
Nonetheless, there were parts of it I did really, really like. It was dark, mysterious, and at times downright creepy, with beheadings, violence, and unnerving sound effects; echoes, strings, plucking, screeching. It was the dark tragedy I had hoped for. I think it achieved what it set out to do with a fantastic cast and set, and I loved the way many of the scenes were played out – I really do think some parts were cleverly done and engaging – but something didn’t sit quite right with me. I’m just not sure what, exactly.
I didn’t adore it, but I did enjoy it, and I do believe that adaptations of Shakespeare are different for everyone. If you’re curious, I suggest you see what you think for yourself! It is worth it.
I am so pleased I had the chance to form my own opinion of this show; NTLive broadcasts are fantastic, and I highly recommend going along to one when they show on a screen near you.
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I was invited to review this performance, but as always all views are honest and completely my own.