15 November 2002
Macbeth plays to the crowd
Lord of the Rings star Sean Bean has returned to the West End stage after a 12-year absence, joined by Samantha Bond, Moneypenny of the Bond movies.
Huge posters of Macbeth and his Lady as a good-looking modern couple out walking through the heather adorn the outside of this theatre. No dull Elizabethan nonsense here, they seem to say.
The two leads themselves are known partly from major roles in two of the biggest seasonal movie blockbuster series.
And the play itself has been injected with rather plentiful amounts of sex and modern warfare in a shameless attempt at playing to the stalls.
Well, this is the West End.
Which raises the question - why gamble on a Shakespeare play in such a commercial environment?
But this is Macbeth as a vehicle for Sean Bean, who should put bums on seats more surely than a free round-the-world trip with every ticket.
He is of course known for playing down-to-earth soldiering types (Sharpe in the ITV series, warrior Boromir in Lord of the Rings, a Gulf War soldier) and lovers (his role in the TV adaptation of Lady Chatterley's Lover sticks fondly in many a woman's mind).
So this Macbeth is a down-to-earth soldiering type - complete with Bean's trademark broad Sheffield accent - with plenty of skill and ardour in the bedroom.
This gives the play an impressive energy, which is no doubt why the actor and the role were brought together.
But Bean is less comfortable in the soliloquy spotlight, unable to express delicate shifts of emotion and often rushing the lines.
It is Samantha Bond who excels as that rare item, a sympathetic Lady Macbeth.
There is sizzling chemistry between her and Bean (although one suspects it would be just the same with a shop dummy as his leading lady).
But she grabs the limelight with a powerful portrayal of a confident and ambitious modern woman, knowing how to guide her sometimes weak and frightened husband to the top.
And her descent into madness is no less believable, when she cannot stop him from mass murder.
The play has certainly been staged for a 2002 audience, with beautiful women as the three witches, short scenes and plenty of other tricks taken from the movie screen.
Some elements are over the top - there is too much atmospheric chanting, which gets a little wearing.
A (somehow inevitable) simulated sex scene between Bean and the witches as they tell him about Burnham Wood provoked a few giggles from the audience.
And the final fight scenes are choreographed as a Gulf War battle, making them bizarrely out of place.
But elsewhere the re-interpretation succeeds - the murder of Lady Macduff and her children is made more prominent, giving proper due to its chilling cruelty.
This could be a dreadful production and Bean fans would still flock to see it.
It is not dreadful by any means, and could even see mass audiences for Shakespeare.
Although what they will make of the chanting is anyone's guess.
Macbeth is on at the Albery Theatre in London
until 1 February.
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