Macbeth - Reviews - Daily Telegraph

Last Update: 15 November 20002

Source: Daily Telegraph
15 November 2002
Charles Spencer

Scans by Anne K.

Bean and Bond finally lift the curse of Macbeth

Though it reads so thrillingly on the page, Macbeth succeeds remarkably rarely on stage. I have long thought that the real reason actors are so superstitious about what they tiresomely describe as the Scottish Play has less to do with the freak accidents traditionally associated with it and much more with the large number of rotten performances it has inspired.

Who could forget Peter O'Toole's preposterous blood-drenched ranting at the Old Vic? And who could possibly remember Rufus Sewell's dismayingly lacklustre performance, the last to grace the West End stage?

So it is a relief, as well as a pleasure, to report that Sean Bean acquits himself remarkable well in the role, especially since it is 13 years since the actor, best known as the eponymous star of the television series Sharpe, and as Boromir in The Lord of the Rings, last trod the boards. He finds himself in one of the best productions I have ever seen of the play, directed with a wealth of bright ideas and a real instinct for theatrical excitement by Edward Hall, son of Sir Peter. And Samantha Bond proves once again that M's secretary in the Bond movies is also one of the finest classical actresses of her generation.

The piece is staged in modern military dress, which makes a bit of a nonsense of all the excellent sword fight routines, but we'll let that pass. There are terrific sound and lighting effects for the battle scenes, and Michael Pavelka's design of a ruined arch, bell-tower and staircase puts on in mind of John Piper's marvellously ominous watercolours of architectural ruins.

What Hall and his fine actors most memorably suggest is that Macbeth is a love story as well as a horror story, though it is a love that goes grotesquely wrong.

When Macbeth returns to the spooky family home, laden with fresh honours after success on the battlefield, the sexual charge between him and his wife is electric. Lady Macbeth sits astride him on the marital bed as she wills him to regicide, and initially seems the stronger partner. Lady Macbeth's tragedy is that she cannot understand the consequences of their actions, and it tips her into madness; Macbeth's is that he can, but proceeds nonetheless.

Both production and performances powerfully suggest the price of evil. As her husband wades ever deeper into the bloody mire, Samantha Bond's once sensual Lady Macbeth can no longer bear to be touched by him, and her extreme mental distress in the sleepwalking scene is pitiable to behold.

Bean, in contrast, memorably suggests a good man who chooses the wrong path only to find he can't turn back. There is a homely warmth about his native Sheffield accent, and in the early scenes his loyalty to Duncan seems entirely sincere. It's true that Bean could usefully turn up the dramatic heat in the great soliloquies, but there is no mistaking his commanding stage presence, his electrifying terror of Banquo's ghost, or the terrible sense of futility that engulfs him at the end.

There are a host of other fine flourishes in Hall's production. I have never seen the murder of Lady Macduff and her children more shockingly staged, while the weird sisters are sexy auburn-haired sirens who invade Macbeth's troubled mind like a disturbingly erotic dream.

All credit to Hall and Co. In this gripping, hurtling-paced production, the curse of Macbeth has been lifted.

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