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Review: Macbeth, at National Theatre, Olivier Theatre

Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff star in adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play set among smoking fumaroles

08 March, 2018 — By Howard Loxton

Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear in Macbeth. Photo: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

DIRECTOR Rufus Norris and designer Rae Smith have set Shakespeare’s Scottish play in a dystopian landscape of blasted buildings and bunkers with a great sweep of metal like the ramp into a giant aircraft.

The red clothing of kingship (and of blood), almost the sole colour in a dark world. Its soldiers are in modern dress, their armour strapped on with packing tape, but their weapons swords and daggers. It is here among smoking fumaroles that Macbeth encounters the shrieking witches who foretell promotion and coming kingship and so turn him from loyal defeater of rebels into a regicide.

Rory Kinnear’s Macbeth is a convincing loyalist; it takes his wife’s determination to break his allegiance. Anne-Marie Duff doesn’t make her an obviously powerful woman. When he asks: “If we should fail?” she acceptingly says, “We fail,” before boosting his confidence. She plays on his own sense of virility, but this Macbeth returns from the murder a quivering wreck.

This is a production that seems driven by a directorial image; it is full of intriguing ideas but doesn’t develop the performance these two fine actors could deliver. Stephen Boxer’s King Duncan has a strong presence; Kevin Harvey makes Banquo, the buddy whom Macbeth gets rid of, intriguing. Would he have challenged Macbeth had he lived? His son Fleance (Rakhee Sharma) rushes around inside a cardboard box, which makes him more noticeable. As Macduff, Patrick O’Kane effectively exploits low-key emotion.

While Macbeth finds himself becoming a murdering tyrant, desperately clinging on to the prophecy that he thinks means no one can kill him, Lady Macbeth, haunted by guilt, here definitely dies by her own hand. He breaks the “Tomorrow and tomorrow” soliloquy to rush to her, delivering “Out, out, brief candle” while holding her body.

This is a clear telling of the story, though one that seems barren of hope. It will especially grip those who are seeing the play for the first time but I look forward to seeing both Kinnear and Duff in productions that won’t have such an overriding concept.

This production will be broadcast to cinemas by National Theatre Live on May 10.

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