'Macbeth' review or 'Till death do us part'

Macbeth, William Shakespeare
Sam Wanamaker Theatre, 15th November 2018
Written for The Guardian 



Casting roles based on real-life relationships can often feel gimmicky and tends to take one out of a play. But this time it works. Husband and wife Paul Ready and Michelle Terry – artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe – play opposite each other as the Macbeths and the result is a central relationship that feels amazingly intimate and believable. Even if Robert Hastie’s production is a touch too down to earth for its own good, Ready and Terry work brilliantly as a team.

Hastie has created a Macbeth with little ceremony. Some canny doubling – particularly the decision to have Joseph Marcell play both Duncan and the porter – means that Macbeth’s prospective kingdom feels modest indeed. The actors wear skinny jeans and black hoodies and Peter McKintosh’s design is a stripped-back stage. The lighting is set at gloomy, with many scenes lit by a single flickering candle. Everything simmers at a low level, occasionally slipping over into subdued.
Whenever the supernatural emerges, it’s all very low-key. The three weird sisters predict Macbeth’s fate with glazed grins on their faces but they make little impact, despite composer Laura Moody’s high-pitched incantations. After Duncan is killed, a servant breathlessly recalls the earth shaking “as if it had a fever”. Macbeth is having none of it: “‘Twas a rough night.” When Macbeth realises the curse has finally caught up with him on the battlefield, he deflates the moment with a whispered, “Oh gawd” It’s very funny but feels a little bloodless.
As a couple, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth fascinate and surprise. When Macbeth falters, Terry’s Lady Macbeth shouts in exasperation: “I have given suck!” They’re a couple we’ve met countless times before, squabbling about domestic issues. Later, when Banquo’s ghost appears at the banquet and Macbeth falls to pieces, Lady Macbeth keeps the dinner guests happy with strained small talk and anxious smiles. And when Macbeth hears of his wife’s death, one of the play’s most familiar phrases – “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” – suddenly sounds different. This is Macbeth imagining a life stretching on, awfully and endlessly, without his wife by his side.

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