26 November 2002
Nov. 26, 2002
By Bill Hagerty
Albery Theatre, London
Through Feb. 1
Presenting Shakespeare in the heart of London's theaterland is never easy, but the impeccable timing of this "Macbeth" caused it to open with fanfare usually reserved for movie premieres. What's more, director Edward Hall, fast-rising son of the super-eminent Peter, has brought an almost filmic quality to the Bard's shortest play, cutting down the text and hotting up the pace to present two hours and 20 minutes of passion and action.
The reason for an initial boxoffice rush, which produced an advance healthy enough to enable the show's backers to adopt broad smiles before first night, is the pairing of Sean Bean and Samantha Bond as the upwardly mobile-at-any-cost Macbeths. Samantha's surname aside, there is a strong Bond connection here: She plays Miss Moneypenny in the new Bond film, while Bean was a memorable villain in "GoldenEye."
Under Hall's deft direction, both thrive. Bean's Macbeth has more muscles than brain cells as he butchers his way to the throne. He appears bemused when slaughter creates more problems than it solves. And Bond, a smoldering Lady M, rather quickly gives up the ghost and takes up hand-wringing and hand-washing when things start to go wrong. They are a compelling, if odious, couple, and their thrashing about on a bed before home-from-the-war Macbeth can even remove his muddy boots is about as sexy as Shakespeare can get without anyone being arrested.
There is sensual stuff, too, from the three weird sisters, who, having discarded their cloaks, serve at the kingly dinner table then cavort on Macbeth's bed when he seeks reassurance that he's indestructible. With flaming red hair, they are a bit like Bond girls, though probably demanding more toil and capable of infinitely more trouble.
The supporting cast is all-around competent, the fights are thrilling, and Michael Pavelka's eclectic costuming -- mostly uniforms from different eras -- is effective. However, the modern combat gear worn by Malcolm and Macduff's avengers renders the use of swords somewhat incongruous. Profound it isn't, but this "Macbeth" is palpably a hit.
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