The Lowry is packed with school groups for the National Theatre’s touring production of Macbeth. I first saw Macbeth at Reading Hexagon when I was doing my O levels, a sparse production where the highlight was the evocation of Banquo’s lineage through mirrors, and I wondered what my fifteen year old self would think of this show. I think I would have loved it. I think I would have loved the spectacle, the otherworldliness, the way the visual presentation resembled almost-real video games, dystopian films and stark album covers. I think the pace would have worked for me. I think I would have loved the way the strange and the normal run with each other. I would probably have liked the way the dialogue is spoken in an un-Shakespeare-like way.

After the three weird sisters predict Macbeth’s future, they climb three poles circus style to take up positions where they seem to control his destiny, sprite like. Above them, flourishes of plastic evoke an unnatural, nightmarish forest. The play then alternates between two stagings. The outdoor scenes are played through the huge grey backdrop with an arc of a metal platform as if straight out of Assassin’s Creed or similar video game. It’s always dark, unchanging, post apocalyptic. Then for the indoor scenes, movable walls bring us tight into a small space, their distressed concrete and decayed modern designs strongly lit, suggesting a polarised future where everyone is scraping a life. The Banquo’s ghost scene sees the dining tables brought right forward into an uncomfortably close position.

Macbeth for me is all about the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and here it’s very convincing, if understated. It’s really very normal. They appear to be a couple caught up in the momentum created by the weird sisters’ predictions and take the opportunity presented to them to advance. They realise when it is too late that they can’t control the monster they have created. Macbeth falls to superstition, Lady Macbeth to madness. It’s not the regular power trip that most productions go for. I like this, they’re really just like you or I.

But there are aspects of this production that fall down. Certainly the text is devoid of rhythm, which gives this production a harsh, nihilistic edge which I presume is meant to reflect the setting. That grates at times. I know this is Shakespeare and I do want the poetry that comes with the language even if it’s not iambic pentameter. The evocation of Banquo’s lineage through figures with face masks on the back of their heads is a poor attempt to recreate a mediocre horror film. The killing of MacDuff’s family shocks but does not have the depth that would provoke balanced emotion.

Overall though it’s an ambitious production which seemed to resonate with the young audience tonight. Staged with impact and well acted with an astute choice of text, this is a production that will stay with me for a long time.

photo credit BrinkhoffMogenburg

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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