17 November 2002
Toil and stubble
Sean Bean brings a bit of rough to Macbeth... and the guilt doesn't stop there
Scan by Anne K.
Macbeth Albery, London WC2
It was unfair to Edward Hall - but I was not prepared for more than a competent Macbeth. This was perhaps because the last production of his that I had seen was his decorously conservative The Constant Wife - Somerset Maugham's drawing-room drama - and it was easy to think that tradition might be his middle name.
It was wonderful to go to the theatre with insufficient expectation - and to be bowled over. This Macbeth brought back the greatness of the play - and gave it new blood. Sean Bean's Macbeth is a man of rough passions, strong and weak at the same time. He is commanding and unshaven, with a northern accent, and wears a long, sleeveless leather coat. He looks like David Beckham after an unlucky game. His performance hits a nerve: his hands resist emptiness. They must get hold of something - a crown, a dagger, a man's life. They seem to collude with his dreams.
There is always a danger with Shakespeare's tragedies that the language will intercede in the wrong way - that its beauty will shield the audience from the horror it describes. Not here. Bean's performance is characteristic of the production: it insists upon the reality of the story.
Samantha Bond is a marvellous Lady Macbeth - a swanky hostess who loses the plot she has helped to write. She is dressed in much the same way as the witches, in a sexy evening dress. It is as if they were all attending the same party, which - in a sense - they are.
Hall has a sure touch, inventing enhancements - always intelligent and legitimate - to the drama. It is a pleasing idea to link Lady Macbeth to the witches: four mind-bending women seducing Macbeth together. The witches look divine: they live on an ethereal estate, summoning flame from the floor of the stage, then making themselves scarce in smoke.
Julian Glover is the best Duncan I have ever seen. He is so nice, such a charming guest, praising the pleasant aspect of the castle - which makes the Macbeths' crime even harder to countenance.
Barnaby Kay is a convincing Banquo, too, and in the banqueting scene a most immediate ghost in immaculate evening dress, his face scarlet with blood. The sense of social breakdown - a dinner party on the edge of the abyss - is brilliantly conveyed. Lady Macbeth weeps after the guests have gone, her head in her hands at one end of the deserted table as Macbeth says: 'Blood will have blood...'
Mark Bazeley's Macduff is the living embodiment of Macbeth's line. He acts like a man possessed - at his most powerful when he has lost everything. His performance will bring tears to your eyes and a shiver down the spine as he seeks out his revenge.
The evening advances in murderous haste: it insists upon the speed of Macbeth's descent into hell, his spiralling loss of morality, and reminds one how a bad conscience will distort everything and how an evil minute can change a life forever.
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