Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
We were awed by the original version of this production, which we saw at the cinema via NT Live earlier in the year (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2018/05/12/macbeth-3/). Still, marvellous as the National Theatre’s outreach programme is, it’s not the same as seeing a live show, and so we were delighted to learn that the Scottish play was heading out on tour. We wrote the Edinburgh date in our diary, and eagerly anticipated its arrival. How would director Rufus Norris and designer Rae Smith handle the transition from the Olivier Theatre with its drum revolve stage to the myriad regional venues and their proscenium arches? Would they be able to retain at least some of the stature of the set, the awful bleakness of the London show?
They would. They did. The bridge that arcs over the central wasteland is smaller, sure, and moved by hand, but its construction is ingenious. Homes – damaged, mostly, with bare concrete walls and broken furniture – are two-sides of a wheeled box, spun as we move from outside to in. The lighting (by Paul Pyant) is eerie and atmospheric, all mottled shadows and clear bright shafts.
Usually, I’m irked when Macbeth is played by a middle-aged actor: to me, the character exemplifies a ‘young pretender’ – not just ambitious but impatient and impetuous, careless of consequence, swaggering in self-belief. He’s a fine soldier, but newly recognised as such; I’d place him at twenty, tops. But here, in this post-apocalyptic vision of the Macbeths’ world, fifty-year-old Michael Nardone’s casting as the eponymous anti-hero makes perfect sense. This is a war-torn nowhere/anywhere, adrift in time, as much now as then, and it’s dog-eat-dog; he doesn’t have a lot to lose. There are indeed daggers in men’s smiles; only the fittest can survive. Kirsty Besterman makes a decent Lady Macbeth too – her husband’s equal, complicit in his downfall, but not the evil cause of it.
I like the depiction of the witches; in this war-torn landscape they seem more displaced than supernatural, feral rather than ethereal. There’s a telling contrast between the ramshackle, held-together-with-gaffa-tape body armour of the rebels, and the fit-for- purpose equipment of the English troops. And the sound design (by Paul Arditti) builds a pervading sense of unease; these are very troubled times.
I’m relieved and delighted that the touring production is so good. I know this interpretation of the play has been quite controversial, but it really works for me. I think it captures the very essence of Macbeth and illuminates the themes and characters with great clarity.