The RSC’s production of Macbeth comes at an apt time. Greed for power at any expense is the universal feature of politics and business, living as we do in this bizarre mix of entertainment and reality.
Time is obviously important in Macbeth, and Fly Davis’ decision to plant a massive digital clock in the middle of the set brings this to the fore. The trick with The Scottish Play is to find the balance between inevitability and predictability: if Macbeth is simplistically evil, he’s unsympathetic; if he isn’t scheming enough, he’s not credible. The huge red clock pushes us towards the predictable.
Christopher Eccleston is initially likeable if a little unsubtle in his ambition. When Duncan announces his successor, he steps forward before Malcolm is chosen. His potentially implausible decision to bring the knives back after murdering Duncan is more believable. Indeed, when Macbeth true evil is revealed, Eccleston’s lack of tact renders this an uncovering of pre-existent evil rather than a fall to sin.
The Weird Sisters are played by three young girls who chant as if telling nursery rhymes, rather than placing a curse on Macbeth’s greed. This decision is questionable, as the ‘nursery rhymes are creepy’ trope is perhaps the most common feature of modern horror films. Indeed, if even if they had been scary, this is perhaps not the most salient purpose of the role: the wise-mad figure in Shakespeare should be the speaker of truth in confusion- think of the Jester of King Lear as example par excellence. Here, however, it isn’t clear what this slightly gimmicky decision adds to their role in the play.
A much more interesting decision is to keep the Porter onstage at all points, appearing as a creepy-comic caretaker, hoovering the carpets after a death and directing characters towards their murderers or victim. He sits next to a watercooler with a bag of crisps, watching the action, perhaps the ultimate arbiter of the ebb and flow of power.
Beyond this, however, we have to ask what this production adds to the canon. Eccleston and Cusack’s relationship is believable yet unremarkable; Edward Bennett’s Macduff is pretty flat in his delivery. More importantly, director Polly Findlay doesn’t seem to have anything new in mind. She hasn’t directed the production towards any specific audience, and hasn’t made any distinctive changes. Dressing Shakespeare in modern clothes doesn’t make it any more relevant. The central idea here, that evil will continue until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, is already very clearly indicated in the text, meaning that Davis’ clock (and perhaps the production) really signifies nothing.
Review by Thomas Froy
Christopher Eccleston makes his RSC debut in the title role of Shakespeare’s psychological thriller, opposite Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth and with Edward Bennett as Macduff.
Returning home from battle, the victorious Macbeth meets three witches on the heath. Driven by their disturbing prophecies, he sets out on the path to murder.
Polly Findlay’s contemporary production of this dark tragedy of power and revenge marks her return to the Barbican following her stunning staging of The Alchemist in 2016.
Polly Findlay Direction
Fly Davis Design
Lizzie Powell Lighting
Rupert Cross Music
Christopher Shutt Sound
Aline David Movement
Kate Waters Fights
Chris Fisher Illusions
Silk Street London EC2Y 8DS
Macbeth: 15 October 2018 – 18 January 2019
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