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Theatre Review: Macbeth, RSC, Barbican

PUBLISHED: 14:09 07 November 2018

Christopher Ecclestone as Macbeth at The Barbican Photo Credit : The Other Richard

Christopher Ecclestone as Macbeth at The Barbican Photo Credit : The Other Richard


Creepy child witches and a sinister janitor give Polly Findlay’s modern-dress Macbeth an unsettling edge

Banquo and Macbeth in the RSC's Macbeth at The Barbican Photo Credit : The Other RichardBanquo and Macbeth in the RSC's Macbeth at The Barbican Photo Credit : The Other Richard

It’s known as ‘The Scottish play’, but the faceless grey-carpeted expanse of Fly Davis’ understated set resembles a dentist’s waiting room rather than a blasted Caledonian Heath.

Seated beside a watercooler, Michael Hodgson’s ever-present, expressionless Porter is the janitor of a kind of purgatorial bureaucratic ante-room through which the Macbeths must pass on their way to hell.

The trio of red pinafore-clad creepy child witches call to mind Kubrick’s The Shining, and Edward Bennett’s be-cardiganed Macduff is a briefcase-toting civil servant far better at wielding a pen than a sword.

While Polly Findlay’s crisply-edited production plays against much of Shakespeare’s supernatural and earthy language, what it lacks in poetry, it gains as a lucid examination of political ambition and life under a dictator - and besides she follows the contempoary trend of simply cutting any lines that don’t suit her interpretation.

Never has a Macbeth more needed a lesson in dissembling than Christopher Ecclestone’s bluff, gruff Thane. But his fall from national hero to paranoid tyrant has a pin-sharp clarity and inevitability to it.

The digital clock which ticks down the two-hours between Duncan’s murder and Macbeth’s last breath foregrounds the play’s themes of time and lends a terrific impetus to the second half.

And even if Ecclestone’s chemistry with Niamh Cusack’s overly-frantic Lady Macbeth is barely existent, there’s a convincing weary nihilism to his final scenes - when he steps into Macduff’s fatal blow.

Bennett’s soundless agony at hearing of his family’s slaughter catches the mood of a production that aims at unsettling atmosphere over buckets of gore.


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