Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy Macbeth is cropping up all over this country this year, and Polly Findlay has directed a dynamic, high-powered production with the RSC this season.
Telling the story of Scottish general Macbeth who is told by three witches that one day he will become king, he becomes fuelled by ambition and alongside his wife commits murder to take the throne. When he becomes consumed with guilt, Macbeth starts to lose his mind and is wracked with paranoia.
Fly Davis’ set design brings the reality of the piece alive by creating a corporate atmosphere with grey columns, bright lights and post-apocalyptic sounding sporadic noises. It’s clean, simple and highly effective as the contemporary feel allows us to connect with the characters as it brings the story into our world. This is enhanced by Polly Findlay’s excellent direction that manages to steer the narrative with sharp definition and precision. It’s pacy, powerful and Findlay has taken risks. For example, the exploration of the drunken porter is a real key character in the play, as he is always there looming over Macbeth and his decisions. Whether it’s watching from afar or placing himself right in the action, Michael Hodgson manages to create a sinister ambience with his presence.
Creating constant anticipation, as soon as Macbeth makes the decision to kill Duncan, a digital countdown begins on stage until the final moment in the play. In the final ten minutes, this really creates a sense of apprehension, gripping the audience into the striking ending.
Findlay strikes gold with her decision to cast the three witches as three young children. It both breathes new life into the piece but also the juxtaposition of the young, naive and sweet children haunting Macbeth is entirely creepy – adding to the intensity of the production.
Christopher Eccleston brings a real authenticity to the role of the rugged soldier, as Macbeth begins to lose his mind, Eccleston projects these emotions on stage with sincerity. His pain and anguish strikes a cord as he struggles to resist his power-hungry persona. Eccleston’s chemistry with Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth is highly convincing. The conniving couple both fall victim to guilt and madness as they lust for power. Cusack portrays the strength and ruthlessness of Lady Macbeth with flair, creating a highly commanding character.
Raphael Sowole stands out as the noble Banquo. Sowole has a dominant stage presence as Macbeth’s ally, as his ambition is present but the contrast in the way he conducts himself to Macbeth is executed well on stage.
The RSC’s Macbeth stands out as a fine piece of theatre that depicts the complex characters with clarity as the lively action has a slick tempo, creating a highly engaging production that projects the consequence of greed and corrupting power.
The RSC’s Macbeth is on at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 18th of September before heading to the Barbican Theatre in London on the 15th of October to the 18th of January, tickets and information can be found here.