Review: Macbeth, Young Vic Theatre ‘Close, But Not Quite’

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It seems to be the season for shows that divide audiences. It’s a growing list and, I suspect, we’ll be adding this production of Macbeth at the Young Vic to it. It’s a bold reworking that sees the creative team from last year’s terrific Medea at the National Theatre take on Shakespeare Scottish play. There are some great ideas here, but the new production elements can’t mask an uninspiring central drama.

Director Carrie Cracknell once again teams up with choreographer Lucy Guerin to create a show that fuses performance with contemporary dance. The addition of the movement, the dance, is a wonder. It electrifies the show.

The witches are the highlight. Spanx-clad and constantly moving in perpetual jerky rhythms, they are sinister and foreboding. I’ve not seen a production better capture the eeriness, the magic, within Macbeth and the way Carrie brings the witches front and centre is key in that. Their shadowing of the main players act as an echo to the spells they are weaving, or the foresight they have. It’s such a powerful atmospheric tool.

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Sadly though their energy is not matched by the traditional cast of actors.

John Heffernan’s Macbeth is limp and easily overlooked. Anna Maxwell Martin doesn’t fare much better as Lady Macbeth, her interpretation in a bit of a no-man’s land between a femme fatale and a directionless woman wandering the corridors. Neither really makes a mark. Nor, sadly, is there much chemistry between them.

As a result, whenever the choreography stops, we’re left with a rather heavy going production that drains away all the energy that the dancing brought.

That weight, that palpable heaviness, is accentuated by a sterile grey set from Lizzie Clachan. At first glance, this design seems very similar to that from Sam Mendes’ Richard III at the Old Vic a few years back – a bare foreground with a series of doors on either side. But this starkness serves the production well as banquet rooms make way for prison cells and torture chambers.

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This is a production that looks to blend the contemporary world into the production, and this goes all the way through to wardrobe with the witches clad in Spanx and the soldiers in camouflage gear. However, it seems to be the lot of the women in this show to be barefoot whereas the men around them are booted in black DMs, which is a bit odd.

So basically this is a mixed bag, a bit of a glass half-empty half-full type scenario. I so wanted to love this show more than I did, but the sad fact is that every time the witches disappeared, my shoulders slumped as the cast dragged their way through (an edited version of) Shakespeare’s verse.

This could have been amazing – but it just didn’t quite come off. A shame.

Young Vic Theatre, London to January 23, 2016

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