It's the first time the sanguineous tragedy has been performed at the National since 1993. It's been even longer since Norris has helmed a Shakespeare production, and he had strongly hinted at a bold, boundary-breaking production.
The show certainly looks striking. Designer Rae Smith turns the vast Olivier stage into a post-apocalyptic world dominated by black bin bags, dismembered baby dolls and, of course, copious fake blood. Actors are dressed in ragged, grungy khakis and everyone’s face is grubby. The three witches are accompanied by liberal gusts of smoke and an over-the-top soundscape of echoes, chirrups and breathy repetition. Violence and chaos dominate.
While it all makes a strong aesthetic statement, there is little bearing on the story. The heath and the aristocratic hierarchies are dislocated in this murky contemporary setting, which fails to clarify or sharpen Shakespeare’s text. Norris's choice to cut crucial scenes and break the rhythm of certain lines can feel reductive; some of the play's most powerful poetry gets lost in the sound and fury of the production.
Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth at the National Theatre (c) Brinkhoff Mögenburg
Coherence and impact come from the very capable cast.
Rory Kinnear’s characteristic crisp, mercurial performance makes his Macbeth an intriguing figure, wavering between guilt, ambition and arrogance right to the final fight scene in Dunsinane. But there’s no new urgency to the character, no real hook through which to understand the 'black and deep desires' that propel the tragedy.
It’s Anne-Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth who really captures imagination. Right from the offset as her husband returns from battle, she is charged with a nervy intensity that makes sense of both the scheming strength and decline into madness.
With two such accomplished actors, this Macbeth could never be a total dud. But after two and half hours of rather hollow, grating visual spectacle, we can't help thinking this show would be more powerful if it was stripped back and simplified.
|Macbeth, National Theatre review
|National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP
26 Feb 18 – 12 May 18, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|£15 - £65
|Click here to book via The National Theatre