Rory Kinnear



Let’s face it, Macbeth’s biggest problem is its ubiquity. Easily the most accessible of Shakespeare’s plays – and arguably one of the most powerful – we’ve seen so many average versions of it over the years (amongst which I am inclined to include Justin Kurzel’s 2015 film adaptation) that a production really needs to do something very special with the source material in order to make it an enticing proposition. I’m therefore delighted to say that the National Theatre’s latest production, directed by Rufus Norris and seen here via a live cinema linkup,  does exactly that, giving us a Macbeth that rivals the very best of them.

It almost goes without saying that both Rory Kinnear (in the title role) and Anne Marie Duff (as his manipulative wife) submit exceptional performances, giving those oh-so-familiar lines enough oomph to make you feel as though you’re actually hearing them for the first time. No mean feat.  But it’s the production design that really shines. This version takes place in what might well be a post-apocalyptic world, where a civil war has just been bloodily disputed and where everything has a grungy ‘make do and mend’ look. Severed heads are proudly displayed in supermarket carrier bags, food is served in battered mess tins and even Macbeth’s armour is contrived from found items battered into shape, which have to be literally gaffa-taped onto him before each battle. Duncan (Stephen Boxer)’s royal regalia comprises an ill-fitting red velvet suit, that might have been salvaged from a charity shop. It provides the one splash of vibrant colour in an otherwise drab and scuffed world.

Production designer Rae Smith has created a huge wood and metal arch upon which much of the action plays out. It somehow contrives to be both heavily industrial yet strangely ethereal as it swings silently back and forth. It is poised over a revolving circular stage, so that each successive scene can glide effortlessly into position. In one sequence, the Weird Sisters move with the turning of that central wheel like the protagonists of a particularly disturbing nightmare. There’s some great use of regional accents: Trevor Fox’s Porter is a dour Geordie; Patrick O’ Kane’s MacDuff a pugnacious Irishman. Oh, and the element that lets down so many stage productions – that climactic battle – is delivered here with enough zeal and gusto to be truly convincing. You’ll believe that a head can be bloodily severed.

Of course, if you’re reading this and you weren’t at last night’s showing, you’ve already missed your chance to see the live broadcast, but the good news is that the production is heading out on a UK and Ireland tour from late September, so – if it’s showing anywhere near you – do take the opportunity to see it. It will serve to remind you that Shakespeare, when convincingly done, can be truly and utterly enthralling.

5 stars

Philip Caveney



Man Up



Some films are little more than entertaining fluff, but as entertaining fluff goes, Man Up is right there with the best of them. It boasts two likeable leads in Simon Pegg and Lake Bell, a great supporting cast, a witty script by Tess Morris and a genuine ‘feel good’ tone that carries you effortlessly through to its (pleasingly predictable) ending.

Lake Bell is Nancy, a thirty something female with a poor record in the relationships game. At the film’s start, she’d supposed to be attending the engagement party of a couple of friends, where she’s been set up on a blind date, but opts instead to eat a burger alone in her hotel room and watch The Silence of the Lambs. Pestered by her sister, Elaine (Sharon Horgan) to get in there and give it a shot, she goes to meet the man in question. The ensuing toe-curling conversation is one of the film’s funniest scenes. On the train home, she meets Jessica (Ophelia Lovibond) who is herself en route to a blind date, carrying a cheesy self-help book for the purposes of identification. By chance, Nancy ends up with the book and with the blind date, Jack (Simon Pegg), a forty year old would-be artist who is still hurting from the pain of the separation from his ex. Caught up in the moment, Nancy allows Jack to think that she is actually Jessica and the two of them embark on a night of drinking and conversation, made all the more challenging by Nancy’s desperate attempts to ‘be’ Jessica – who it turns out, is a twenty four year old triathlete! It’s all going swimmingly until they visit a bowling alley and bump into Sean (Rory Kinnear) one of Nancy’s ex schoolmates and a man who has been nursing a (rather creepy) obsession with her ever since…

Mistaken identity is a familiar conceit in the movies and many have tried this idea with average results, but Man Up is a superior product in most respects. The quirky script has far more surprises up its sleeve than you might expect from a subject like this and there are some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments along the way, even if we know all along that Jack and Nancy are made for each other and there’s no way the filmmakers would dream of letting us down in that regard. If you’re expecting the earth to move, this may not be for you, but if you’re in the market for a quirky, heartwarming feel good picture, you could frankly do a lot worse than this.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney