"If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me"
'Macbeth', known too as the Scottish play (have also heard Verdi's opera coined the Scottish opera), is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, with some of Shakespeare's most deservedly famous characters and lines/solliloquies. It is one of his most quotable/oft-quoted plays and one of his most accessible to study in schools, from personal experience and studying it twice (no other Shakespeare play had me studying it more than once at school).
Despite my love for 'Macbeth' and Shakespeare, admiring Rory Kinnear (who is experienced in Shakespeare and has given powerful interpretations of it) and wanting to go against the grain (have been known to be a contrarian), it is with sincere regret that my opinion is in line with the critics on this occasion. Can totally see the panning, agree with the criticisms and although traditionalists are going to dislike it intensely and have done it would not be surprising if those taking it on its own merits (speaking as one) dislike it as well. It is for me one of the worst Shakespeare productions of the National Theatre Live series (most being decent to brilliant), one of the worst of the whole series overall (one of the few misfires) and one would be hard pressed to find a worse production of 'Macbeth' anywhere. From personal opinion, it is even worse than an amateur production seen in my late teens as part of my English literature course, that completely butchered the Banquo's Ghost scene.
This is unfortunate because actually Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff are saving graces and give truly valiant efforts in the lead roles. Duff in particular is incredibly vivid and is truly chilling without going over the top. Kinnear doesn't make Macbeth a stock character and instead a power-mad and conflicted one. All their major speeches and speeches are delivered with intensity and emotional power.
Another saving grace is the chemistry between Kinnear and Duff, the one thing other than them that the production nails. Which was essential as it is the chemistry between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth that is the most important to get right. A lot of intense fireworks between the two and the dynamic blisters.
Sadly, the rest of the cast seem stifled by their surroundings and seem bewildered by what is going on. Can't blame them on both counts, a lot of people would be uncomfortable and feel out of their depth if made to do what goes on here. Other than the central relationship, it seemed like the cast were oblivious to each other, the chemistry was so disconnected. The very pedestrian and at times downright distasteful direction, which had very little flow or coherence, really works against them. What should rouse is as unexciting and sometimes unintentionally silly as one can get, the intensity and emotional impact are lukewarm at best other than with the Macbeths and motivations and actions tend to be muddled.
Found too many of the characters under-characterised and while cuts usually aren't a problem for me, the truncations here really affect the flow (meaning that the storytelling feels jumpy and incomplete) and cause confusion. The production misses the point of too many of the themes and renders most meaningless, the supernatural element is constantly implausible and more silly than sinister. Have rarely seen a weirder or confused portrayal of the witches. The social and political elements are also under-explored and get practically lost amongst the setting. Which brings us to the production values, which are for want of a better word hideous. 'Macbeth' is a dark play of course, but there is a fine line between appropriately dark and grim and going too far on the grimness and being ugly in the process. This production is an extreme example of the latter, the setting adds nothing to the drama and feels almost irrelevant to the play's content.
Overall, incredibly disappointing. 3/10 for the two leads and their chemistry only
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