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Macbeth, National Theatre, review: ‘Little chemistry between Kinnear and Duff’

PUBLISHED: 10:43 12 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:43 12 March 2018

Macbeth Royal National Theatre. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Macbeth Royal National Theatre. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Brinkhoff-Moegenburg

Bridget Galton finds a chilling version of The Scottish play lacks poetry and the supernatural

Macbeth Royal National Theatre. Picture: Brinkhoff/MoegenburgMacbeth Royal National Theatre. Picture: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

There are no burning fires or bubbling cauldrons in Rufus Norris’ first foray into directing Shakespeare’s work for 25 years.

The National Theatre director’s starkly unpoetic take on the Scottish play is set in a post-apocalyptic world and messes about with the text, but not in a good way.

Gone is the opening hubble bubble spell. In are those added on Hecat speeches, which seem to disrupt Rory Kinnear’s usually supple and fluent verse-speaking.

We’re in a non-specific brutal dystopia – a kind of Mad Max without the wacky vehicles. Rae Smith’s stubbornly ugly salvage-aesthetic set involves a big ramp, high poles, and bin-bag curtains flapping in the vast Olivier expanse.

Far from nobility, Kinnear’s would-be King is a shaven-headed thug. His homemade armour bound with parcel tape, he beheads his enemies and stuffs the gore in plastic bags.

The Macbeths live not as Duncan says, in “a pleasant seat” but a concrete bunker. Anne-Marie Duff’s DM and jeans-clad Lady M is on her uppers.

But while the poster shows the couple entwined, there’s little chemistry between these two usually fine actors.

The unbearded, but decidedly weird young witches speak in eerie whispers. One twitches, giggles and runs amok like a mad child. The dismembered dolls she has strapped to her echo the later grisly presentation to Lady Macduff of her broken children in plastic bags.

Like a horror movie it’s all very chilling, but also chilly: the supernatural threads that bind the play have been yanked out, and Kevin Harvey’s cheerful Liverpudlian Banquo who stumbles repeatedly into scenes like a drunk with a vicious gash on his head, is clearly just a figment of Macbeth’s guilty imagination.

It’s hard to feel that guilt or to see why titles might matter in this lawless world riven by civil war.

Norris’ heavy smothering hand is everywhere; the sleepwalking scene, where Duff’s brittle and nervy Lady Macbeth tips over into utterly believable mental collapse is over in a flash.

While the final build-up to the moving Birnan Wood and face-off with Patrick O’Kane’s intense and steely McDuff is painfully slowed down – a real momentum killer.

Kinnear has good moments, his Thane finally thaws when he holds his wife’s lifeless body, but he and Duff have both been much better in previous outings on this stage.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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