Macbeth - Reviews - The Times

Last Update: 14 November 20002

Source: The Times
15 November 2002

Bean books in for bed and Bard
By Benedict Nightingale
Theatre: Macbeth
Albery, WC1
3 stars (out of 5)

Scans by Anne K.

BEDS figure prominently in Edward Hall’s modern-dress revival of Macbeth. Far from pacing through Glamis Castle with his father, Fleance wakes from a nasty nightmare in one. Far from lurking balefully on a blasted heath, the witches are Pre-Raphaelite lovelies who hide somewhere beside Macbeth’s pyjamas, and rise up from his pillow to greet him when he wants a meeting.

Odd stuff, but never mind. The key bed is the one on to which Samantha Bond’s Lady lures Sean Bean’s Macbeth, then bestrides him, then vamps him into murder with a sensuous mutter of “leave all the rest to me”.

As both performers emphasise, she has a sexual hold on a man who, without her musky allure, would have gone on loyally chopping up rebels for good king Duncan.

There’s nothing wrong with this emotional emphasis, but it helps explain Bean’s limitations as well as his strengths. Don’t expect dark ambition or haunted imagination or anything very inner or soulful of his Macbeth.

With his grizzled skull and chunky body, he looks what he is: a plain, decent soldier who rapidly finds himself out of his depth and tries to secure his throne in the one way he knows, by killing and more killing.

A northern accent — strange when his nobler fellow Scots speak standard English — adds to the bluff, unpretentious effect. It’s an approach that pays terrific dividends just after the regicide. Bean may have killed men with his sword (or, in this chronologically confused Scotland, machinegun), but the murder of Julian Glover’s genial Duncan leaves him as bewildered as shattered. How could he, trusty Macbeth, do such a thing and become such a person?

Though Bean goes on to exude an eloquent disgust with the pretences forced upon him, though he effectively hardens and coarsens, his performance is never again so remarkable. Nor does Samantha Bond make the admittedly tricky transition required of Lady Macbeth.

One moment she’s fondling her man; almost the next she’s scuttling from him in horror. So her handwashing scene, strong in itself, is poorly prepared for.

Hall’s production is brisk and fluent, which is the least it should be, given that his cuts include the witches’ cookery lesson and apparition exhibition and his adds aren’t always happy.

I suppose that even in this greatcoat-and-beret Scotland it’s OK for Macbeth to be crowned onstage by a cardinal, but should Adrian Schiller’s wintry Malcolm have picked up Eichmann’s habits as well as his looks? Should the sinister English end up arresting befogged Scots thanes? Shakespeare says no, and I would tend to agree with him.


Box office: 020-7369 1740

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