Review: Macbeth

★★★☆☆

Three Stars

Macbeth got off to a mixed start. Several actors in the first act spoke their lines in listless drones, although first-night nerves may have accounted for the woodenness. While it was immediately evident that the cast, and in particular its supporting acts, was strong, there were moments of weakness or incoherence. The very first scene sees the witches prepare their charm – but the three actresses seemed unsure whether to go for naturalism or histrionics, and wandered somewhere in between.

Still, Banquo’s (Stan Carrodus) easy banter with the various guards was very good, as was his doubting monologue – and the dynamic between him and Macbeth (Alex Hartley) was fluidly convincing. Macbeth himself proved brilliantly aware of Shakespearian verse diction, even popping the occasional diphthong in. His admission at lacking “spurs to prick the sides of my intent” finally saw the production come into its own. His guilt-ridden “There lay Duncan” showed good work on glances and tone between his interlocutors too. When Macbeth finally announces that “the crow makes wing to the rookie wood” – Shakespeare for “I must go on a murdering spree” – Macbeth finely cadences his psychological progression, complete with patronising forehead kiss to his bemused Lady.

This Macbeth demonstrated an intriguing conception of space in its character placements. The sometimes shaky acting was given precision and drive by the actors’ movements and alignments. When Duncan’s court first enters, post-battle, the clever blocking places the witches downstage, facing us with fingers to lips.  We get a sense of intimacy between the evil to come and the audience. More simple, smart blocking comes when the witches’ cauldron separates Macbeth from the morally uncorrupt characters, part of the production’s intention to visually isolate its antihero. In fact, Lucy Clarke and Tom Fawcett’s directing enhanced Macbeth’s visceral dependence upon Lady M, thanks to their staging of the Macbeths’ bloody-handed, post-regicide embrace.

As the play winds itself tighter, the acting strengthens. There is an amusing scenic remake of the final supper, where the guests appear wonderfully awkward while the cutthroat pair publicly lose it. And, in the infamous “double bubble” witch scene, the fake blood dripping an occult circle around the cauldron may be unoriginal, but it draws a pleasant, circular symmetry. Meanwhile, the witches seemed careful to vary tones in their incantation to avoid droning.

On the other hand, while Malcolm (Alex Christian) is appropriately young-looking, the casting choice was pretty dissonant when he came to feign lechery. His choirboy looks made declarations like nothing could “fill up the cistern of his lust” slightly startling. Likewise, Lady Macbeth’s (Francesca Nicholls) “unsex me here” diatribe came across as very forced. It lacked a build-up, and so seemed very abrupt, her passionate vibrations too suddenly hysterical. Lady Macbeth did, however, really kick into gear (and not a moment too late) with the “out damn spot” scene.

Overall, this Macbeth is full of good moments, and boasts a creative vision of stage space. It has pleasant cameos by comical characters, like the fantastically loopy night watchman or a Scottish priest. Nevertheless, lighting and pace are a little off, at times. For instance, a white spot shining directly onto the audience rather clumsily cues supernatural dealings – and Lady M’s solo plotting scene is unrealistically rushed. But minor characters often reveal themselves excellent: the mercenaries commissioned to kill Macduff’s family are suitably vicious & immoral. And by the final scene, the weird sisters are perfectly synchronised, all in catatonic states and eyes glazed. Most importantly, Macbeth’s unravelling scene (“Sleep no more”) is superbly spoken.

Oh, and a word of warning to all future Macbeth-goers: carry cardies, get gloves, bring blankets. Regent’s quad is a beautiful, monarchical-looking thing indeed, but by Act III scene 3 it might as well be Little Siberia.

Great setting, good but patchy acting, and intriguing visual patterns make for an entertaining, if uneven (and freezing) Macbeth in Regent’s quad.