In Jamie Lloyd's post-apocalyptic production, James McAvoy's Macbeth first yomps onto stage with his face dripping in blood. It’s a high-octane start for a show seeped in graphic violence and gore. Which is perhaps fine for the computer game generation, bred on a monochrome diet of blood and guts, but if you’ve been nourished with the slow, screw-tightening subtleties of Shakespeare’s finer tragedies, you may find something lacking. The titular hero’s noble origins are nowhere to be seen: here, Macbeth starts out as a murderous terrorist. Which ultimately leaves this disappointing production nowhere to go.
With his face still dripping blood in the darkened set, it’s hard to see how Macbeth reacts to the gas-masked witches. Scared? Spurred on? Suspicious? This key moment in the play could be a turning point. Perhaps, like us, McAvoy struggled to hear their prophesy through the rubber covering their mouths.
Claire Foy's Lady Macbeth, meanwhile, rattles through her soliloquies like a bossy schoolgirl intent on winning a poetry prize, but with no ear for the nuances in her chosen text. A glance at the programme tells us the cast have stamped out the dee dum, dee dum of the iambic pentameter in rehearsals, creating a forward motion "like riding a cantering horse". All very technical. If only they’d considered that the audience might like to hear Shakespeare's soul-stirring picture-painting words instead.
Happily Macduff and his wife (Jamie Ballard and Allison McKenzie) rescue the second half by showing their more famous colleagues how it's done. Lady Macduff's interaction with her son is the first credible relationship we see on stage. Ballard’s portrayal of a husband’s shocked disbelief at the news of his murdered family is genuinely heartbreaking.
With the run at the Trafalgar Studios practically sold out, this is clearly one of the West End’s most popular tickets. The youthful team should be praised for trying to bring Shakespeare to the masses with their cheap(er) tickets and starry casting. We just hope rising star director Lloyd gets over his verse-worship soon, and starts treating us to a version of Shakespeare suitable for the 21st century.
Macbeth runs at the Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, Westminster, London, SW1A 2DY until 27 April. Tickets range from £10 - £54.50 with all tickets being £15 on Mondays. Day seats are available for £10 Tuesday through Saturday from 10.30am at box office only. Visit macbethwestend.com for more info. Londonist saw Macbeth with a press ticket supplied by Emma Holland PR.