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Theatre Review: Macbeth @ The National Theatre


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Rufus Norris is back in the Olivier Theatre with one of Shakespeare's most popular plays and while it is quite the spectacle unfortunately it doesn't live up to expectations.

Set in a bizarre wasteland during an unknown era the stylisation of the piece is undeniably fantastic. Nothing has been spared in making the huge space feel violent and jarring with the incredible set design taking over the Olivier theatre.

The world has been ravaged by war but the how and why of this evades us and is never made clear. It is an interesting take on a classic piece and I applaud the attempt to try something new. 

Rory Kinnear's Macbeth runs onto the stage at the start of the show with a lack of enthusiasm that continues throughout. Kinnear, known to be a fine Shakespearean actor, fails to deliver. He takes time to warm into the role, finally settling into it towards the end of the first act by which time it is too little too late.

During the second act he does, finally, seem to delight in the words he is saying, making it easier to enjoy his performance. However, the rhythm of the language is lost. The famous "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" speech is cut up in a bizarre way that completely loses the tempo and fire behind the poetic words. 

Kinnear finds the soldier in Macbeth with ease, but the guilt-ridden shell of a man Macbeth goes on to become is lost. 

But perhaps this is just bad direction.

Anne-Marie Duff's Lady Macbeth fares no better. Duff's version seems vulnerable and naive and lacks the strength Lady Macbeth is known for; a very odd interpretation of what is a very powerful female role.

The "unsex me here" speech could and should be the turning point from weak to strong yet nothing changes. There is a distinct lack of connection between the actor and the character and a clear misunderstanding of the stakes behind the words. This means there is no weight behind anything said. 

Furthermore, there is no clear journey for Lady Macbeth throughout, which is obviously not a fault of the text. The whole character feels rushed and underdeveloped. Again, the fault of poor direction and a potential lack of work by Duff.

The connection and heat between the two leads in nonexistent which is the greatest shame of all given how excellent both actors have been elsewhere.

By contrast, the three witches are superb. The varying physicality is consistently on point throughout. Finally, three actors who enjoy what they are saying - clear through their utterly brilliant vocal work.

The weirdness of the trio adds to the eeriness of the production and is one of the stronger parts of the show.

Overall though, the spectacle of an epic set and interesting costumes can't make up for the mediocre performances given by actors who look like they'd rather be elsewhere.

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