Rufus Norris

Macbeth

23/10/18

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.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

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Macbeth

10/05/18

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

 

London Road

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28/06/15

London Road is an extraordinary film. Although clearly indebted to its theatrical roots, this is a truly cinematic work – and quite unlike anything I have seen before.

Centred around the infamous Ipswich murders of 2006, when five prostitutes were killed over the course of a few months, London Road tells the stories of the local residents: their discomfort at their street becoming part of the red-light district; their horror at the murders; their reactions to the revelation that the killer was Steven Wright, a neighbour of theirs. Through verbatim accounts, drawn from interviews conducted with the real life residents of the street , we learn of a community torn apart – and then, ultimately, uniting to reclaim its heart.

And it’s a musical.

Actually, it’s not really a musical, as such, but it is mostly sung – and the effect is stunning. The dialogue is faithfully reproduced, with every ‘um’ and ‘ah’ included; every hesitation, interruption, exclamation rigorously documented in the lines. The language dictates the rhythms, and the score stretches and amplifies the natural cadences of speech, creating a kind of hyper-realism that is utterly compelling. Some lines are repeated to create a kind of chorus or refrain, thus reinforcing some of the more prevalent ideas (‘He could be one of us…’).

There’s no driving narrative here, no one character whose tale defines the story. It’s exactly what you might imagine a series of interviews to amount to: a collage of disparate accounts. And yet, this collage serves to create a very clear whole picture. There are conflicting emotions, as the prostitutes move away from the area to somewhere where they feel safer, and the residents begin to take a pride in where they live again. ‘I know it’s awful,’ says Julie (Olivia Colman), as she looks around the resurgent neighbourhood, ‘but I’d like to shake his hand.’ It’s an uncomfortable truth, made more so by the brooding presence of Vicky (Kate Fleetwood) walking through the street, untouched and unobserved, clutching a balloon like a hopeful child. No one can condone the murder of these troubled women, but none of us would like them working where we live.

There are some big names attached to this film: Tom Hardy makes a fleeting appearance as a taxi driver obsessed with serial killers. But it doesn’t feel right to single anyone out: this is an ensemble performance, with all parts contributing fully to the whole.

It’s a game-changer, I think.

Go see it.

5 stars

Susan Singfield