This National Theatre production of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth directed by National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris is a dark and modern day dystopian drama of a production. It takes the premise that a bloody civil war has taken place in a land already ravaged by attacks from other lands. It is a land haunted by superstition and gross suspicion. This staged vista is Britain on its last legs and the story centres its bloody and corrupted heart in Scotland. All that have any degree of cunning, strength or power are out for all they can achieve in a country where little remains in terms of civility and the scavenging ravens, metaphorical and real are out for blood. Only the dense masses of non bio degradable hanging black plastic, that make up a goodly proportion of Rae Smith grimly majestic set, show links to the past. Most of the markings and trappings of civilisation are gone. Does that mean there is no internet and mobile phone provision? Alas it does.
We are afforded passage into the world on stage by an arching bridge that is used for many a dramatic entrance and exit and the symbolic trees are clambered up by the weird sisters to offer them high vantage points to observe the mortals in their murdering and warring quests for power and kingships.
No longer are we privy to beautifully laid out lavish feasts in a fancy castle to which the Macbeth’s have invited the thanes but the mere shell of an old outhouse with a random selection of metal chairs and cheap folding tables. This deliberate sparsity of décor works tremendously well in bringing home Macbeth’s horror at seeing the ghost of Banquo lit in sickly yellow outside the window and then amongst the gathered only visible to Macbeth in his ‘strange infirmity’.
This is a fairly large cast production chock full of high quality acting especially from the leads Michael Nardone (Macbeth) and Kirsty Besterman (Lady Macbeth). The Macbeths are seen as a couple on several points of violent desperation but with a core of attraction and twisted love that binds them in their ghoulish ambitions. Lady Macbeth is the driving force in the cruelty to unfold. Both Nardone and Besterman have a masterful command of the language and make Shakespeare’s poetic text very understandable and grounded without the need for showy soliloquies. The authentic Scottish accents make the piece even better.
There are some excellent performances especially from Deka Walmsley as Porter, Tom Mannion as Duncan, Lisa Zahra as Lady Macduff and Patrick Robinson as Banquo.
This ensemble work hard in keeping the story flowing and the mainly young GSCE students in the audience on press night are rapt from the outset and react well to the tale unfolding on stage and at the finale. If this kind of touring production can give the young an interest in the theatre and what it can offer us emotionally and imaginatively as a story telling medium then we are in a happy place both now and for the future of the theatrical arts.
Macbeth runs at Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 26th January 2019.
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