Macbeth @ Festival Theatre

Rufus Norris' Macbeth is a dark and foreboding new production which explores the desire for power and success.

Review by Elaine Reid | 08 Nov 2018

A dark, foreboding and tense atmosphere is firmly established from the outset in the National Theatre production of Macbeth, with director Rufus Norris moving the setting to modern times, just after a civil war. The curtain opens on a dark stage, with a long, steep, wide ramp rising up to the rear, as the three ghoulish, nymph-like witches hang like acrobats from tall poles, and run and swoop between characters. Speaking in echoes, they lay forth their seemingly outlandish and impossible proclamations about Macbeth’s future, including the claim he will be the future King of Scotland, and set in motion the ghastly series of events.

Macbeth (Michael Nardone) and his wife, Lady Macbeth (Elizabeth Chan), soon become drunk on the promise of power, and this excitement and desire rapidly evolves into a dark obsession that leaves bodies strewn across the stage. It’s the relationship between Macbeth and his wife which is the most poignant and intriguing aspect of the play, as we witness how both their relationship and their respective mental health deteriorate as their guilt consumes them both, and ultimately leads to their demise.

Costume designer Moritz Junge keeps the colours muted, with the characters in dark and dull colours and casual attire, with the exception of King Duncan, who appears in vibrant red. This then extends to both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, when Macbeth assumes the royal throne. This visual representation of opulence versus mundane highlights the stark social divide between the powerful and the powerless.

Both Nardone and Chan have moments on stage where they effectively build tension through compelling monologues, as their murderous actions increasingly haunt both their waking and sleeping thoughts. And Patrick Robinson as Banquo has an engaging stage presence. However, the overall chemistry between the cast at points misses the mark, some deliveries fail to sound compelling, and there’s a sense that something is lacking or absent from the production as a whole – which prevents the audience from engaging wholeheartedly with its characters and dark tale.

A tense, murky play that explores the human insatiable desire for success and power, Macbeth – despite moments of devilish and heightened intrigue – fails to unequivocally captivate.

Festival Theatre, until Sat 27 October,