Macbeth - Reviews - Lisa

Last Update: 09 Feb 2003

Macbeth, with Sean Bean, Samantha Bond, and cast at the Albery Theatre.

It begins with a bang, and proceeds with a stark intensity that is at once militaristic, human, gritty, and very sexy.


The production begins with a tremendous crash of thunder, slamming all house lights off with a seat-rocking bang, as though a power surge has killed the electricity in the building. No polite warning, no dimming of house lights — just BANG. And the actors launch into their When shall we three meet again In thunder, lightning, or in rain? before you've even gotten a chance to catch your breath.

Opening Macbeth with thunder and the flicker of lightning is terribly literal, but the stark power of this sets the tone for the entire rest of the production — visceral, powerful, stripped to the bone.

The setting is nominally modern, with modern military uniforms and a color palette rooted firmly in olives and khakis and dress blacks. The stage itself is dressed in bomb shelter chic, with distressed, rusty steel ladders and such, and a very beautiful decaying Edwardian-era opaque glass door at the rear of the space. Apart from a few bare pieces of furniture brought in at intervals (a bed, a throne, etc), this black and steel, rust and khaki arena is what cradles this production.

Although the production's quasi-lawless military rule is shown with a very modern edge, it's not rooted in any specific modern locale. It's not quite rooted at all, in fact, floating in this gritty dark box of timelessness aided by details like the usage of both swords and guns, and by the transformation of the witches into a sort of Greek chorus.

This was a rather nifty idea — instead of being hags who hover at the edge of reality, these witches are three similar-looking beautiful young women, who weave in and out of the space in a very liquid and ever-present manner. They dance and sing pagan-sounding chants — along the same lines as how the Greek chorus originally functioned. Carrying this further, like a Greek chorus, they do seem to act as an extension of Macbeth's inner workings — they bring to light his secret ambitions, through suggesting things that were already latent inside him. It was a really interesting interpretation — interweaving this magical element was far more effective and seductive than the usual otherworldly crones.

There's almost nothing to say about Sean Bean. He's glorious. Playing angsty anti-heroes — men of tremendous integrity and worth who took a wrong turning too long ago to remedy — is what the man does best. I'd venture that no one does it better. He throws all of himself and his tremendous ability into his Macbeth, and the result is electrifying.

Plus his presence certainly seems to have upped the quality of the stage combat, which was strong, agile, brutal, and beautiful.

Samantha Bond is a sensational Lady Macbeth, all at once casually elegant, fiercely sexual, and determinedly ambitious. Her Lady M isn't evil... exactly... she's more passionate than demonic, and though her ruthlessness has the required strong and unwavering bite, she's never cold. I really liked seeing such a hot and mature portrayal — she was more real than any other figure on stage.

I loved the little details present throughout. Small things like the way the lights went subtly cooler whenever Banquo's ghost was visible onstage. To mark the set in England, they lowered a screen painting of two flying dragons and a St George cross all shaped like WWII bombers tearing across a cloudy sky. Macbeth wearing a dirty and tattered Scottish lion flag as a mantle at his coronation was a deliciously deliberate smack, especially as he processed to the accompaniment of a choir singing a bitingly vicious Sanctus. These details are made all the more intense by the stripped-down nature of the production.

This production throbs with intensity, in its beautifully bold characterizations, in its dark, war-worn set, in the strong power plays and in its details of design. No concept or movement is poorly thought out. It is gripping, fast, tactile, and real.

And yes, mm mm that Sean Bean does indeed look nice without a shirt.

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