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National Theatre’s Macbeth – Bath Theatre Royal REVIEW

From the company that created ‘War Horse’ and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime comes a new adaptation of the Shakespeare classic ‘Macbeth’ by fresh director Rufus Norris.

The production opens with a jungle/military style feel, khaki palette, tall palm trees and a large wooden ramp. This choice emphasised the references to nature within the script but I felt this was lost at the play went on. With this being Norris’ second attempt at Shakespeare his lack of experience in setting a clear context was obvious.

Macbeth - NT - The cast of the UK and Ireland tour of Macbeth - Credit BrinkhoffMogenburg - (2)

Michael Nardone starred as Macbeth with Kirsty Besterman as his leading Lady Macbeth. They both performed well, as did the rest of the strong cast as they slotted well into their roles. Nardone’s breaking of the fourth wall didn’t carry the impact I would have hoped but he excelled in his pivotal scene as he goes mad at the dinner party.

Macbeth - NT - (centre) Kirsty Besterman (Lady Macbeth), Olivia Sweeney (Gentlewoman), Reuben Johnson (Doctor) - Credit BrinkhoffMogenburg

Similarly iconic lines from Lady Macbeth were delivered as they should be but I would have liked to have seen more exploration from her character. I struggled to connect with the rest of the cast as emotion didn’t seem to surface easily within the muddled context of the play.

Macbeth - NT - Evelyn Roberts Elizabeth Chan Olivia Sweeney as the Witches -- Credit BrinkhoffMogenburg

The witches clambered up the tall palm trees and hung like monkeys, echoing as they spoke. The three swirled around the stage in transparent ponchos and created an eerie atmosphere but I don’t feel like they added much to the piece. Tension was also built successfully by white noise and reverb sound effects during moments of distress or conflict.

NT's production of Macbeth - Tom Mannion Joseph Brown and the cast of Macbeth -- Credit BrinkhoffMogenburg

The pace of the dialogue was slower than usual and didn’t conform to the standard iambic pentameter, with deliberate pauses and broken speech. This gave a different emphasis on the script and allowed you to get lost within the words more than you would usually.

Macbeth - NT - The cast of the UK and Ireland tour of Macbeth - Credit BrinkhoffMogenburg

The Shakespeare adaptations that do well are either when the story is left untouched and is performed in the way it was written, or when it is given a new twist to repurpose or reshape the story. Rufus Norris attempted to both and failed to succeed at either. This doesn’t make the play unenjoyable, just a little confused it where it sits on the shelf next to the other hundreds of Shakespeare interpretations.

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