‘Now, after a civil war’; The provocative setting for Rufus Norris’s controversial adaptation of Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, Macbeth. Set in a 2020s dystopian Scotland, this touring National Theatre production relies heavily on the spectacle of its disjointed design and political undertones, causing this seemingly exciting and interesting production to become a bad mixture of unclear atmosphere and storytelling.
Macbeth (Michael Nardone), a devoted general in King Duncan’s (Tom Mannion) army, receives a prophecy from a trio of witches forecasting his rise to power as the next King of Scotland. Consumed by ambition and greed, Macbeth, with the assistance of his just as ambitious wife (Kirsty Besterman), kills Duncan and takes over the throne. But just like the witches predict, the road to glory isn’t as easy as it seems.
Norris’ production is not for Shakespeare scholars; don’t see this production if you are expecting a placid, unoriginal retelling of the Scottish play (in fact, Norris cut the majority of its most iconic lines). The director doesn’t conform to the traditional, pretentious laws of adapting Shakespeare. His production is unique, grand and often entertaining, although messy and faulted in its themes and metaphor. Norris takes risks with this production, however the majority of them don’t pay off; fantasising about a post-Bexit Britain, using regional accents, relying on the set to tell the story, placing the setting in the semi-future. Nonetheless, it is still an exciting and fascinating (albeit, a bit overly dramatic) look at the future of our world’s current political crises.
The cast is led by Kirsty Besterman and Michael Nardone as Mrs and Mr Macbeth. Nardone has crafted a physically brash Macbeth; his rich baritone voice, bold physique and masculine body language makes his Macbeth a believable product of the modern military world. As a contrast, Besterman’s Lady Macbeth is slim, seeming fragile, yet still has undertones of seduction and devious desires. Where the pairing perhaps falls apart is the lack of chemistry between the two characters; Besterman’s Lady Macbeth is perhaps not bold enough to plausibly standup to the strength of Nardone’s Macbeth. It should also be noted that one of the production’s most intriguing and gripping performance came from Reuben Johnson in his small role as the Doctor, as his demeanor, delivery and presence was absolutely gripping.
Norris’s Macbeth is not traditional; it’s not the pretentious, high-brow production you expect comes with the name Shakespeare. Instead it’s an entertaining, unsettling and challenging production that takes bold risks rather than playing safe. Norris’s production isn’t the best modern Shakespeare adaptation to ever hit theatre (his 25-year hiatus from Shakespeare definitely shows through), but it is a production that challenges the stigma around the cultural perception of Shakespeare and is a simply visually intoxicating piece of theatre worthy of a good night out.
Macbeth plays at the Norwich Theatre Royal until November 3.