Macbeth is a staunch favourite with Shakespeare fans and is regularly staged and re-imagined. In this 2018 production, Christopher Eccleston takes on the title role in his first play, working with the RSC.
This production was filmed and staged at The Barbican, London. As tends to be the case with Macbeth, the backdrop was dark and imposing creating a feeling of doom before the play starts.
From the beginning the RSC set out their stall to shake up this well told tale and by making the three witch’s, children; it adds an element of surprise from the beginning. There is a trade-off here however, the children are eerie, but the girls are dressed in pink onesie’s, which does add a splash of colour and make them stand out against the dark backdrop, but they are also quite cute, which takes away some of their menace.
The challenging character of Macbeth was dissected well by Eccleston, bringing out the different aspects to his character. Macbeth is a warrior, used to killing on the battlefield, but he finds the prospect of killing his King daunting and his conscience is pricked. This was brought out well in the play and Niamh Cussack as Lady Macbeth showed her ambitious nature, she would not allow Macbeth to step away from his task of murder.
There were many innovations in this production which gave Shakespeare’s Macbeth a new lease of life.
Reminiscent of the upper balcony at The Globe Theatre, King Duncan’s celebration uses the full height of the staging and allows Macbeth to skulk down below, fighting with his conscious about whether killing his monarch, to take what he see’s as his rightful crown, following hearing the witch’s prophecy.
An interesting concept that I hadn’t seen before was the large digital clock, set at two hours and counting down the time until the end. It is unclear how the caretaker fitted into the play, but he seemed to appear close to the timer starting and then counted the dead as murders occurred.
Even though the production felt new in its concept, the feeling of this being a Shakespeare play remained, which allowed the RSC to attract a new audience, whilst also pleasing die hard traditionalists.
The lighting (designed by Lizzie Powell), played a key part as at times the stage seemed very gloomy, and then during a soliloquy a simple spot would be enough to frame the actor, leaving us to focus completely on important dialogue.
There were times when more emotion could have been conveyed by Eccleston; he hardly flinched when told of his wife’s death and in some earlier scenes, he conveyed a lack of warmth to this wife.
The costumes were modern in design and there were lots of costume changes to challenge the costume department.
Overall, a refreshing re-imagination of one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays and very well directed by Polly Findlay.
This play is available to watch on BBC iPlayer under the Culture in Quarantine section for four months. To watch go to https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p089zg9d/culture-in-quarantine-shakespeare-macbeth
Please also spare a thought for the theatre in these difficult times. If you watch the play, it would be very helpful if you could donate to the RSC. To do this please go to https://www.rsc.org.uk/support/make-a-donation/
Reviewer: Caroline Worswick
Reviewed: 27th April 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★