THE ARTS: Hall's show is full of Beans
By Sarah Hemming
Financial Times; Nov 18, 2002
Sean Bean has reportedly long nursed a desire to play Macbeth - ironic, really, when you think of the press that ambition gets in the play. Now that his hour has finally come, he acquits himself well. His is a strong, authoritative performance that drives the production and he has an intense stage presence. But though this is a fine performance, it is not a truly great one, and he is not helped in this by Edward Hall's production, which, although it is technically skilful and full of spectacular theatrical moments, never raises a hair on your head.
Hall's production is a model of clarity, fluency and speed. The text itself takes only two hours to perform here - essential in conveying the vertiginous path of the play. Michael Pavelka's set is a murky ruin, of the type beloved by Romantic painters, which serves for both inside and out and encloses the action in two thirds of a circle, appropriate for the psychological claustrophobia that besets the Macbeths.
Period and place are unspecific, but we are clearly in a bleak country in the grip of bloodthirsty internecine struggle. Indeed the production opens by showing us some of the battle action, reminding us that Macbeth is the sort of soldier who can unseam a man from nave to chops and suggesting that bloody times beget bloody deeds and brutalised minds. This prologue helps to explain the source of the evil in the play and the context for Macbeth's actions. But at some point the horror that the Macbeths have unleashed has to suffuse the stage - and it never quite happens.
Meanwhile Hall cannot resist using dramatic sorcery - separating scenes with a slicing guillotine sound, introducing lightning flashes, bringing on an overhead helicopter to convey the might of the English army. Ironically, these effects serve not to heighten the atmosphere but to remind you that you are in a theatre. No sweaty-palmed moments from the weird sisters either: here the hags become red-haired beauties, who at one point rise from behind Macbeth's bedstead.
Some of the key scenes, however, are staged with great intensity: among them the Macbeths' disarray after the murder of Duncan and the dinner party interrupted by Banquo's ghost. Bean handles these scenes immensely well and he makes a believable Macbeth - a rugged, bluff, fighting man with a flat Yorkshire accent and a keen temper. You can well believe his prowess on the battlefield, you can also understand how, after the thrill of battle, a sense of anticlimax makes him ripe for the weird sisters' flattery. He ably conveys too, however, the fundamental sense of honour that increasingly torments him as he wades further along his bloody path. He rushes the soliloquies, however, losing some of their impact and never really convincing you that these thoughts are occurring to him as he speaks.
His is a very physical Macbeth and so, appropriately, his relationship with his wife is sexually charged. Samantha Bond makes a strong Lady Macbeth, emphasising the thrill she feels at her husband's potential power and then her gathering panic and horror as his monstrous deeds begin to fill him up. But still the tragedy of this couple doesn't shake you. Mark Bazeley's Macduff brings tears to your eyes as he learns that his family has been slaughtered. Otherwise this is a production that is skilful, fluid and sharp, but leaves your eyes dry and the hairs on your neck firmly in place.
Albery Theatre, London WC2. Tel 020 7369 1740.
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