Olivier, National - £7.50 - 7th March-23rd June - Directed by Rufus Norris
Norris’s second-ever stab at Shakespeare has produced this bleak, brutal, grim, gritty, gloomy and gory production. Set in a barbaric post-civil war (clichéd) world, Norris seeks to create an inky-black atmospheric mystique but the Olivier stage is just too big so the ambience is swallowed up in the vast space. The set seems to be lifted from a budget dystopian student film; large tattered black tarpaulin hangs from the ceiling like seaweed while the forest is made of shredded bin-liner. Dismembered babies draped over the witches’ necks suggests more African voodoo than supernatural Scottish spirits. It all seems a bit make-do: the king is armoured with duct tape; everyone lives out a suitcase as if their Ryanair flight has been cancelled; royal ‘banquets’ are eaten in bus shelters. Therefore, no one has much to lose– if you fail, you just fail. The position of king is derided into little more than a red suit– who in their right mind would wish to be in control of such anarchy. In this lawless survive-or-die world regicide doesn’t really shock; kingship brings Macbeth a costume change and his wife a tatty sequined dress but that’s about it.
The beginning is all too obvious: Macbeth hacks off a head in battle so by the time the tableau is repeated with Macbeth as victim, the bathetic denouement is awkwardly anticipated and gratuitous. Effect is prioritised over substance. Castles are concrete bunkers; slaughtered babes are traded in plastic bags; poetic metre is grossly disregarded. The two star cast members do their best, but Kinnear’s accent is more Cape Town than County Fyfe (if you are going to do Scottish accents make them universal!). Duff as Lady MacB is the show’s saving grace – every word pulsates with tension, vulnerable yet terrifying, feral yet composed. The surrealist marching row of back-to-front masked infants is a glimpse of brilliance only for us to return to junkies being convinced into murder with the unlikely bribe of an Irn Bru. And why does every Shakespeare now have to include an impromptu techno-rave? A shame but an underpowered result.