NT Live – Macbeth Review

It can often be tricky to transfer a staged performance to a viewer sat in cinema miles away, especially when it’s coming from the Olivier theatre capable of sitting 1,150 people. Fortunately that’s not the case here as Rufus Norris’ is take on Macbeth comes across as a cinematic experience wherever you watch it from.

As I’m sure you all know Macbeth follows the dealings, decisions and dismay of Lord and Lady Macbeth so in casting two stalwarts of the theatre in Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff you’d expect standout performances in every respect, and for the most part they deliver. Though the reasons their performances are dampened does not come from them or the rest of the cast who all put in a stellar effort, no the biggest issue the show suffers from is its sense of identity.

Rather than stick with the classic setting of Scotland the show transfers the actions to some post-apocalyptic future, one seemingly where the norm is to still have a monarch reigning supreme while fighting various rebellions not over supplies as you might think but to over throw King Duncan. Duncan’s existence within this adaptation makes the least sense, while every other character is depicted as being able to fight while understanding that violence is necessary in this grim future, Duncan is shown as fancily dressed toff spouting orders, frankly speaking it wouldn’t take three witches to convince me he needed over throwing. The witches acting as wild mysterious forces seem equally out of place in this future where bin bags are as common as bodies on the streets, adding magic to the mix doesn’t quite chime well. This is frankly a shame given the performances put on the actresses playing the witches themselves as they each have their own unique version on the roles, coming together along with some additional vocals to create a creepy, spine tingling effect that offers one of the highlights of the show.

Despite the shows confused ideas the cast come together to do a spectacular job of selling the story, despite stiff competition from the leads no member of the cast lets the show down each offering a refreshing and very alive take on these ancient characters. Patrick O’Kane truly gets his moment towards the end as the grief stricken man determined for revenge, his breakdown and subsequent journey felt like the first time we really couldn’t forgive Macbeth for what he’d done, though it’s disappointing that fact came so late.

The shows transfer to an apocalyptic setting is shown throughout the set, as rubbish, dirt and anything grubby is thrown at random around the set to give it ‘character’, however instead it comes across as lazy set making. This grubby apparel transfers to the actors costumes as well, as they are clad in anything you can pick up from an army/navy store, though for some reason the only armour they’re able to find is kid sized chest pieces seemingly from American football. These strange visual styles result in a not creating a dystopian future, but more of a downtrodden now, almost representative of a busy street after a week of strikes from waste disposal. Ultimately the breakdown of such a large stage is only really used for a large staircase, a small room and outside which comes across as a massive waste of the Olivier.

Despite the stellar cast that could have given this production a chance to truly shine it’s all brought down by some strange decisions on the design front, along with the fact that beyond these two points there is little worth revisiting about the entire production. It feels like a smorgasbord of ideas that could have been used elsewhere but for some reason were shoehorned into one of Shakespeare’s most profound plays. If you want to see an incredibly well acted show then by all means see this, it feels cinematic in its ideas however perhaps they’re ideas best left to the cinema.

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