So many contemporary productions of Shakespeare seek to define themselves by placing the drama in a more recent epoch. Nicholas Hulbert’s rendering of Macbeth could be said to represent something of a departure from the modernist norm, the largely betighted characters placing it squarely in its maker’s time. The set is strikingly Spartan (in simplicity, rather than era), pared down to the extent that swords are the only accessories, and the stage is defined by the raised, black outside of a circle at its centre.
The message is clear: this is a primarily psychological play, with language taking obvious precedence over scenery. As such, we are aware from the outset of the nominally performative status of that which unfolds before us; it looks like what it is, a stage, rather than an attempt at recreating reality. That this might detract from verisimilitude, however, is really irrelevant. The play’s the thing, as Hamlet notoriously said, and this production’s emphasis on drama succeeds in catching the conscience of the King, in this case Macbeth, and that of his Lady of the same name.
Of course, the play’s efficacy would not be so without convincing acting. Tom Russell is more than convincing, conveying Macbeth’s troubled essence by mastering an improbable balance between uncertain and imposing. His physical presence is immediately marked, and is matched by an increasingly stormy vocal range. The immediate aftermath of his bloody deed is particularly powerful, his previously nuanced turbulence exploding into convulsive, extreme nervousness. As Lady Macbeth, Laura Waldren also excels. With her bright red dress and distinctly suggestive enunciation, she is sensuality itself. Her confidence is caricatured to just the right degree, the hint that 'she doth protest too much' aptly precluding her character’s breakdown, which is still a suitably shocking surprise, but not a non sequitur.
The supporting cast is not so consistently strong, but many of the turns are more than capable. Guy Strong’s sliminess as Banquo is such that we wonder whether he is not the real villain of the pièce, while his ghostly return is the play’s greatest triumph. Rhianna Frost, Julia Kass and Katie Reid are worthy witches, credible instigators of Macbeth’s neurosis, crucially not overplaying the repulsiveness of their profession. Alasdair McNab and Ed Limb, respectively Macduff and Lennox, are less convincing. The latter had an unfortunate habit of looking rather too pleased with himself, while the former’s grief-stricken reaction possessed scant depth.
Overall, acting and stage combine to make this a decidedly evocative production. Even when lit, the set always appears dark and smoky, reflecting the mental trauma at the play’s heart – this is a profound and resonant psychological tour de force.
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Macbeth is on at the ADC, 7.45pm until Saturday 17th. Get your tickets online at https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/drama/macbeth.aspx