Review: Macbeth, Olivier Theatre

This Macbeth lives in a world of bin bag chic. Raves, duct-taped armour, heads thrown into plastic bags; this is an apocalyptic underworld where dad dancing mingles with murder, in a visually compelling, but sometimes disappointing version of Shakespeare’s classic.

In the most obvious attempt to modernise, rave scenes replace banquets. Yet these forays into dance manage to be more blood curdling that the brutal murders the play is known for. This verges on death by embarrassment. One company member repeatedly vomiting into a bucket as a dance move is a particularly strange sight. Admittedly Stephen Boxer as a delighted, yet unbeknownst Duncan manages to channel a touch of inner Jagger – the younger cast members could learn a thing or two from this hip-wiggling veteran – but ultimately the key players look uncomfortable.

That said, Rory Kinnear puts in a good effort in the eponymous lead. Any fears that he doesn’t have the physicality to pull off the role of the Scottish General are initially subdued by an impressive shimmy up a fireman-esque pole to hang the head of his first kill – a nice nod to the denouement – but the fight scenes are fairly clumsy. His descent into madness is believable, yet Macbeth’s desperation to hold onto power less so. Kinnear is far from a vile tyrant, no matter how vile the black silk shirt and red suit combo he sports makes him look.

Likewise, Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth struggles to evoke the air of a bloodthirsty nasty woman with her festival-ready fluff of hair, and muddy trench boots. Her initial vitriolic speeches feel false, and for anyone who has seen Duff on stage before you feel a little disappointed. In last year’s Common – in the very same theatre – she showed more grit in a much lesser play, and so you wonder if the weight of Macbeth has proven a little too much for this national favourite.

However, Patrick O’Kane as Macduff prowls the stage, bringing a touch of power to the final fight scenes, while Anna-Maria Nabirye, Hannah Hutch and Beatrice Scirocchi as the otherworldly witches overseeing – often literally as they perch on stalks – Macbeth’s fall are fantastically eerie with their spooky hymnal prophesies.

A hearty attempt that is technically and visually astounding, but lacks the true vim that Macbeth demands. More of a bad trip for a middle-aged group at Glasto, than a disturbing tale of murder, madness and regret.

Macbeth is playing at the Olivier Theatre until 23 June and will be broadcast to cinemas by National Theatre Live on 10 May.

Photo: Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Charlotte Irwin

Charlotte Irwin

Charlotte has just completed an MA in Magazine Journalism at City, University of London. She now freelances, specialising in arts and culture. When she's not writing she likes to escape London and discover other cultures.