Macbeth is surely one of Shakespeare’s most regularly performed tragedies. There is a significant chance that several people in the Crucible Theatre’s audience for each performance of Daniel Evans’ spectacular interpretation have already got previous productions to judge against.
To say that this is one of the best Macbeths I have ever seen, then, is no mean feat.
Evans’ production is ambitious from the off, transforming the Crucible in to a theatre in the round. With actors absolutely surrounded by their audience, it is easy to see the growing insanity of many of the characters: the claustrophobia of the staging, from which there is no escape, surely mirrors the mental states of Macbeth and his Queen.
The title role, played by Geoffrey Streatfield, who was most recently seen in the final season of the BBC’s Spooks, is both vulnerable and strong. Although the warrior Macbeth was evident in both the closing fight scenes – beautifully choreographed so that sparks actually flew from clashing swords – and the opening post-war conversations, Evans seems to have decided to focus on lighter elements of the character, as well.
Proving that no one is made of darkness alone, Streatfield’s Macbeth does not kill Macduff’s baby son. Rather, he kidnaps him, spending the following scenes nursing the baby. I imagine that this choice probably seems endearing to some, but the continual presence of the baby served to confuse me, and detracted somewhat from the drama of the close of the play.
However, in his relationship with Lady Macbeth, masterfully portrayed by Claudie Blakely, the humanity in Macbeth was truly brought out. The chemistry between the two characters was beautiful to behold, and at moments it sent shivers down my spine.
The couple’s reunion at the beginning of the play showed two people genuinely devoted to each other, and demonstrated an entirely new dimension to Shakespeare’s classic.
Upon hearing her husband’s footsteps approaching, Blakely’s Lady Macbeth bit her lip in anticipation, and turned to face him so slowly that it seemed like she could hardly believe her luck at having him home. This one moment was so perfectly human and real that all other interpretations of this relationship, as negative and twisted, seem completely worthless.
Vulnerability also comes through in the scene in which Macbeth admits to having murdered Duncan’s men. Frozen, alone, on one side of the circular stage while other characters form a suspicious ark around him, it is clear the Streatfield’s Macbeth is just seconds from admitting the extent of his crime.
He twitches nervously, and his eyes connect with Lady Macbeth’s. Even with her back to me, it was obvious that they were having an unspoken conversation, with her willing him to come through on their agreement, and continue to deceive his guests.
The way that Streatfield portrayed Macbeth’s mental degeneration was pitch-perfect. While the ‘is this a dagger’ soliloquy showed a man on the brink of a precipice, the presentation of Banquo’s ghost, a moment of true directorial mastery, illustrated someone whose grip on reality was waning.
Banquo, taunting and bloodied, rose through the table at the centre of the dinner party, causing a gasp to pass around the audience. Following Macbeth round the table, and spotlighted in unnerving ice-blue, it was obvious that no one else at the table could see him. The panic in Straetfield’s eyes was tangible, while Blakely’s Lady Macbeth attempted, valiantly, to laugh the whole situation off.
Perhaps the greatest triumph of acting and direction in the whole production, however, was Blakely’s ‘out, out damned spot’. Performed as I have never seen it before, with the full surrounding dialogue, the character’s restlessness and nerves were tantamount but not overdone. She scrubbed desperately at her own hands while conversing with people who were evidently not present, and appeared to be just seconds from breaking point.
It is beautiful moments like this, when the connection between the characters on stage is so very strong, that separates a good production from a great production.
While I would question the production’s ambition in producing the play in full, uncut, the fact that it succeeded to such an extent, eliciting a standing ovation from at least half of the audience, speaks for itself. This is a truly remarkable production worthy of the most glowing review.