by Ellen GriffithsThe intricate court politics of Macbeth are emphasised from the start in Will Cudmore’s production. Cudmore’s quirky interpretation of the play often delivers excellent results. King Duncan (played by Jonathan Tilley) is re-imagined, and convincingly played, as a stereotypical Old Etonian: exuding self-confidence he flirts with Lady Macbeth, using ‘give me your hand’ and ‘fair and noble lady’ as cues for lechery. The irony is made clear; Duncan aniticipates a romantic tryst, but will in fact soon be murdered.
Cudmore aims to keep his version of Macbeth “short and extremely compelling”, cutting the witches’ famous chant ‘double, double, toil and trouble’ and dressing the characters as modern-day men of power. Meanwhile Ed Chalk as Macbeth is brilliant – in the early scenes he could easily be a Union hack, trembling with nervous excitement at the prospect of promotion, ingratiating himself with snake-like smiles and platitudes. His twitching hands and gleaming eyes convey both desparate ambition and the onset of madness.
A deliberate decision to avoid scene changes keeps the play swift and powerful, but perhaps too action-packed. It rushes through Macbeth’s inner turmoil and spends too long on excellently choreographed but irrelevant fight scenes. Shakespeare’s tragedies are known for their psychological impact, but in this version Macbeth’s tormented state is almost lost in the tumble of action.
Anna Popplewell, we’re told tactfully, has acted in several films (who’d have thought it?) and her experience shines through as she plays Lady Macbeth with understatement, manipulating her husband’s ambition and disentangling herself from King Duncan’s flirtations. Cudmore has succeeded in presenting a kind of crash course in the Scottish Play: while sometimes rushed, this play is short and utterly compelling.