Macbeth was one of the first plays I saw as a child, and apparently so enticed me that I nearly climbed inside the witches’ cauldron.
No such risk with this National Theatre production of the Scottish play, and not because I’ve become more decorous with age – but because there is no big tub of bubbling brew.
Instead, the weird sisters shimmy up poles to deliver their pronouncements and Rae Smith’s set gives us an abstract sweep of decking around which to unpack our imaginations, swinging about the stage to suggest hills and ramparts.
There’s always the risk that in seeking to reinvent such a well-known story that the affectations overtake the plot, but this bold production stays on just the right side of invention.
Rufus Norris’ direction keeps the play at the centre, even when surrounded by an inordinate amount of plastic sheeting.
Michael Nardone’s Macbeth is more entrancing as the latterly paranoid monarch than hardened fighter claiming the spoils.
Lady Macbeth is an equally split character, though Kirsty Besterman doesn’t quite inhabit either.
Joseph Brown jars as Malcolm; pitching him as a camp, sliver of a prince is successful on its own terms, but deeply at odds with the muscular tone of the rest of the production.
Ross Walton’s Macduff gives the fullest performance in his limited stage time, and Deka Walmsley impresses in a series of supporting roles, but particularly the porter – pretty much the only brief candle of respite in this dark and bloody play.
There are moments of delight in the movement – Lady Macbeth’s entrance down the sweeping ramp and through a rotating doorway is beautifully conceived – but also some howlers.
The fight scenes generally lack mettle, and Banquo’s despatch is almost comically delicate set next to the visceral goriness of the vividly enacted beheadings elsewhere.
Macbeth is a deceptively difficult play: its central characters are both brutally ruthless and innately insecure.
This product has elements of that too and like the witches’ words the difference between truth and lie can be difficult to discern.