Set in a post-apocalyptic world, torn apart by civil war, Rufus Norris’ production of Macbeth is certainly unconventional. It’s an ambitious effort, with an elaborate set and convincing acting – but Norris hasn’t quite pulled it off. There’s a lack of consistency to the production that means it just doesn’t work and leaves the audience wondering as to why half the actors are using Scottish accents and half are not. Even more so, why most of the characters dressed in combat gear appropriate for the setting, but King Duncan is in a jazzy red suit more suitable for a night on tiles.
The staging itself seems incoherent – like many productions of Macbeth, the play is cut for running time, but here it’s overdone. Many of the witches’ scenes are shortened or omitted entirely, which takes away a key dimension of the play: the horrible, claustrophobic sense of fate, of hurtling full-speed towards a destiny you don’t want but can’t avoid. The witches, who should be creepy harbingers of doom, become more like screeching schoolgirls, and so the dilemma of good and evil in the play is lost.
Norris’s production simply doesn’t do justice to Shakespeare’s great work. Famous lines are shouted from the back of the stage or drowned out by sound effects, and their meaning and weight is lost. The setting is less than grand, with the play taking place in a barren, brutalist wasteland. Extending the military dimension of the play is an interesting idea, but it makes the power struggle at the heart of the play meaningless – who would want to be king of such a mess?
The actors, valiantly delivering their lines from seemingly random locations on the stage, carry the production, making the best out of the questionable staging choices. Although it’s still thrilling to watch, and they performed to a packed house at the Lyceum,it’s perhaps just not quite what Shakespeare intended for one of his most brilliant plays.