Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios with James McAvoy


I saw the first preview of this lovely production so things may well have changed since then.  Having on stage seats for this I was a little worried, too often this is just a gimmick, like when I sat on stage during Equus and had a birds eye view of Harry Potter's flaccid wand in a particularly famous scene. However when I took my seats it was immediately obvious that they had given serious thought to the staging of this and that Traverse worked well.

This production is set in a kind of (and I hate the phrase) 'post apocalyptic' dystopia, a bleak dirty world populated by violent warlords brandishing machetes and thick Scottish accents. Think Tank Girl in Call of Duty!

McAvoy gives an impressively strong performance, I had always thought of him as a little guy but he totally fills the space with charm and charisma and I certainly wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of him. Rather than hen pecked and weak he is a wrecking ball that once pushed into action can't be stopped. Macbeth is a monster, tormented by war, frustrated by his childless relationship and watched over by his creator, Lady Macbeth played slightly underwhelmingly by Claire Foy. 

There are some nice touches with the dagger scene being entirely a delusion and the 3 witches in the second act giving him a potion which then allows him to converse with the apparitions in a Gollum like way with himself. I also enjoyed the air freshener that Lady Macbeth brandishes to welcome royal guests, maybe it can be included in the next febreze advert

"This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses."

Trafalgar transformer Lloyd does a great job balancing the tones of the play, the first third being frenzied organisation, then descent into madness. The biggest shift comes in act 2 when we move in to England, signaled by the frenzied, grey space becoming incredibly light and airy. The 'all my pretty ones' scene with Jamie Ballard's outstanding Macduff is by far the most devastating interpretation of this scene I have ever had the fortune to see. A lot of this production hinges on children and it is summed up brilliantly by Ballard's spot on delivery of the line 'He has no children' when Malcolm insensitively brings up revenge. The way this scene was given the space to breath made it stand out from the rest of the frenzied play and highlighted the dichotomy of dark and light, life and death central to it. I really can't heap enough superlatives on Ballard here, his reaction is expertly heartbreaking and would speak to anyone who has genuinely lost someone close to them.

Speaking of children, I loved that this production did away with the awful stage school kids that we usually are subjected to in productions of Macbeth. Sylvia Young will be fuming! Kids in Shakespeare always ring false, they just can't really act it. Instead we have a teenager, I don't know if they alternated as I didn't buy a program (5 quid!!!) but on the night I saw it, it was a Scottish lad that looked like a young Kevin Bridges who acts it remarkably well for his age. His death is great fun and involves a great sword in a box style magic trick. Also it was a good decision to cut the line "He has kill'd me, mother: Run away, I pray you!" which normally induces serious cringes when delivered by aforementioned stage school kids.

As well as Ballard's towering performance I should also gush about Forbes Masson, I love this guy. I've seen him in a lot of things, he was a great fool to Postlethwaite's Lear and fantastic in the 12th Night/ Comedy of Errors RSC season that launched Slinger properly. He is so good that I didn't recognise him until I looked at the cast list, in past roles he has been dainty and light whereas his Banqou is solid and earthy. Masson must get sick of never being mentioned without Alan Cumming as they were in a lot of comedy together earlier in their careers and I suppose he has been the Jessica Stevenson to Cumming's Simon Pegg.  However with Cumming taking his one man Macbeth to New York at the minute it's probably unavoidable, having seen Cumming in Bent at this very Venue I can say they are every bit as talented as each other!

Great staging moments include the opening of the back of the stage when the woods march to Macbeth, although this did mean that a crisp packet found its way onto the stage and McAvoy expertly had to push it out of the way. Macbeth's 'Carrie" style death was cool, as was McAvoy sliding down a ladder quickly!

It wasn't all fantastic, the shouty porter scene didn't really work for me, maybe the gas masks for the witches were a little heavy handed. Overall though this brings Macbeth to a new generation by being overtly in your face, it has all the darkness of the Goold production with added oomph and urgency.


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