Theatre Review: Macbeth, National Theatre ‘A Dull Disappointment’


So, I’m sorry to say that the starry Olivier-platformed NT production of Macbeth is a dull disappointment. For me, I couldn’t find a single element that worked. So, rather than wade through a heavy article, you know the play, I know the play, so let’s get down to business…

1. Throughout, the Olivier stage is swallowed whole in darkness. Utterly deluged in black, barely a light to break the darkness. I have my suspicions this was an attempt at ATMOSPHERE but it really was just a No from me.

2. In the darkness I could just about make out that the back drop was simply a giant sheet of black bin bag plastic that would be brought down from the rafters every now and then. I think this was to give the impression that we were in some kind of dystopia but it didn’t work. I didn’t get it.

3. In fact, after watching that whole show (2.5 hours) I cannot grasp what the vision and insight of this production was meant to be. I don’t really understand where it was set, what its intention was, or what – if anything – it was trying to be a commentary of. Where were we? I do not know.

4. The witches are, like, well bizarre. They are just a big fat, what? Three women, no connection or conspiracy amongst them, saunter on to the stage in a mist of dry ice, their voices elaborately distorted with echoes. So am dram, and just with no sense of magic. And their portrayal… one of them is all exaggerated slo-mo, the other is some kind of feral version of Carol Kane’s Ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged. The third is forgettable. I was crying out for them to be powerful but they are limp. That is not a good start for a production of Macbeth.

5. Oh and you can’t see them anyway as it’s so goddamn dark.

6. There is no sense of magic in this play at all. No magic and no madness. There’s no examination of that fine balance, or imbalance, between the two here at all. And no magic vs. madness = no Macbeth.

7. Oh, and the head witch is a black woman with a voodoo-style necklace of broken doll bits and body parts around her neck. That is NOT. GOOD.

8. Rory Kinnear did not get Macbeth. That pains me to say it, but he didn’t. He was no warrior, not even in a subversive ‘let’s play Macbeth as if he isn’t a warrior kind-of-way.’ His Macbeth was poised, posh and stoic, but that’s not Macbeth. There was nothing visceral about him, little in the way of believable anger. And he delivered his lines as if they were speeches – sort of, ‘I will now stand here and give this speech.’ This is old-school Shakespeare and after Andrew Scott as Hamlet and James McAvoy as Macbeth, this style ain’t for me. We’ve moved on.

9. AMD struggled with Lady Macbeth too. I didn’t get any sense that the character had been interrogated or considered – her sense of motivation or character arc was lost. There was no sense of her being a villain turned victim, or anger misplaced. She sort of wandered in to scenes and wandered out again. A huge opportunity missed.

10. There was no chemistry between Macbeth and his wife, none at all. I couldn’t tell if their marriage was based on passion, compromise or convenience. I couldn’t get any sense of a balance of power or shift in their dynamics through the play. They seemed as if they were two friends asked to play a married couple on stage only a few hours before.

11. It really was bloody dark. I suppose the darkness was to be, like, ‘ooh, mystery! Ooh, sinister! Ooh, magic!’ but no. It was more like, ‘please, for the love of God, turn on a fucking light.’

12. Macbeth’s soldiers were dressed in hi-vis jackets, faded denim jackets, bobble hats, feather boas and parkas and I don’t know why. One of them looked as if she was based on Bubble from Ab Fab. I didn’t understand.

13. Macbeth is, or I’ve always thought it to be, fast and furious. That acceleration of events as the repercussions of Duncan’s murder spirals out of control and the madness/magic sweeps in, breaking the minds of the guilty couple…. Not here. Just so ploddy and dull. Lacked any kind of energy. I don’t know whether the effect of the 30 minutes slashing the production has taken just from previews alone but it’s still not working.

14. It really is dark. And I was in, like, the eighth row. God help those in the Circle.

15. Everyone is dressed in rags and odd outfits. I think it was kind of a, ooh, Mad Max Fury Road type feel but it really hit the point of silliness when Lady Macbeth came in for dinner in what looked like a dress from Strictly that had been run through a shredder.

16. The foot soldiers party like it’s a rave – all coke, beats and, err, feather boas. Oh, and someone runs around in a box for ages for reasons that I don’t fully comprehend. I think this is meant to be the ‘cool’ bit. Maybe ten years ago this would have been so but now it just makes Rufus seem like he’s trying too hard, as if he’s your Dad trying to be down with his kids.

17. There’s some uncomfortable classism going on here too. When Macbeth sends out soldiers to murder Banquo, the soldiers’ working-class accents vs. Rory’s Queen’s English is uncomfortable, and accentuated by the fact that the woman soldier is dressed in a painful stereotypical jab at working-class women with her in cropped denim shorts and fishnet tights with Ugg boots-style footwear. It didn’t feel good AT. ALL.

18. Macbeth is meant to be a tragedy, but too much of the production just feels tragic.

19. Macbeth’s armour is fastened to him with brown parcel tape. I don’t know why. I don’t know what this is meant to symbolise. Poverty, perhaps? But at one point it’s played for laughs and I was like, eh? No, just no. Come on. We are better than this.

20. Plus points for  featuring scouse and Geordie accents, and for casting an actor with disabilities.

21. But did I mention the Olivier stage was pitch black? As in, utterly pitch black? Maybe Rufus didn’t actually want us to see this show after all.


National Theatre, London, to 23 June, 2018
Tickets from £15.
All production images by Brinkhoff and Moegenburg

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