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Phil Willmott

Review: Macbeth at the National Theatre

Macbeth - National Theatre The big theatrical event of the week is Rufus Norris’ production of MACBETH at the National Theatre. He’s the boss there and the pressure to succeed must have been enormous as the huge Olivier Theatre has been home to an unfortunate series of flops recently. It all sounded very promising because two of our finest actors Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff had been cast as a corrupt and haunted couple murdering their way to power in Dark Ages Scotland.

Norris and designer Rae Smith have gone for a Zombie Apocalypse aesthetic, no doubt to appeal to younger audiences drenched in this culture, so the set is a vast section of an abandoned road bridge that pivots around to create the various locations. This is framed by huge tatty curtains of ripped bin liners from which characters, and smaller concrete living quarters, emerge on a revolve. The three witches who tempt Macbeth to murder are waif like apparitions who hang above the action on poles. Beautifully lit, through a haze of fog, in shades of gloom and grey, by James Farncombe, it looks epic.

The trouble is all this becomes one of the major obstacles to engaging the hearts and minds of the audience. It’s often hard to work out who’s talking during the periods when the full stage is teeming with actors and you can’t always see the facial expressions which might help explain motivation. Scenes from the central marriage are played out on platforms that at least focus our attention but it’s never long before the characters and their journeys get lost again when they return to the gloomy ant hill of the full stage.

Even more disappointingly when our two stars do get the spotlight to themselves their performances are absolutely fine and top draw stuff but that’s it. I was expecting revelatory performances based on their previous award winning appearances at the National Theatre but both give surprisingly conventional interpretations. He is a bit of a thug, easily banishing any introspection and self-doubt whilst she is, as usual, spiky, sexual and ambitious.

As Macbeth succumbed to his fate at the end of the show it occurred to me that I didn’t care one way or the other. I simply didn’t know the guy – which is a very odd thing to feel having just watched his rise and fall over two and a half hours.

So very disappointing, although not terrible. Just sort of nah!