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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Gielgud Theatre

By Matt Wolf

  Patrick Stewart/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

Director's theater is alive and well and coursing its rabid, bloody way through the new West End production of Macbeth, a transfer from the Chichester Festival Theatre's small Minerva space that looks set to take the town. Is this really the best Macbeth since Judi Dench and Ian McKellen some 30 years ago, as some have claimed? I never saw that one live so cannot say. But even as I've seen others that were far more concentrated and more moving, what impresses here is a directorial vision from the fast-ascending Rupert Goold that gets a savage play between its no less cutthroat teeth and simply squeezes every last drop from the text until you're left only marginally less exhausted than the characters. (Be warned, by the way: at three hours, the production runs an hour longer than most conventional Macbeths')

Many will view the production mainly as a chance to see Patrick Stewart continuing to renew a love affair with Shakespeare on this, his fourth go-round with the Bard so far this year. But if Goold's dizzying directorial conceit isn't especially about the star at the staging's center, that has less to do with the actor's decisively psychotic, thuggish take on the part - close your eyes and at times you'll hear his X-Men colleague, Ian McKellen - and more to do with Goold's emphasis on Total Theater: Shakespeare as a springboard for a grimly, unyieldingly Stalinist take that here can't be separated out from the copious, and clever, use of lighting, video and projections, and Adam Cork's ominously suggestive soundscape. Where does all this leave the text itself? Well, chopped around, to some extent: the first two scenes, for instance, have been reordered so as to allow the witches to emerge directly, surprisingly, from our view of three none-too-benevolent nurses tending to a dying man. Antony Ward's setting is at once hospital, slaughterhouse, kitchen, and subterranean dungeon, the site accessed by a clanking elevator that at one point looks as if it's going rather dangerously to start accommodating half the cast. Let's hope no power failures beset the run.

Russia and the former Soviet Union seem the Bardic setting these days of choice, Macbeth following by only a few months the red-hued,vaguely Ruritanian approach adopted by Trevor Nunn toward the Ian McKellen Lear. Here, grainy video footage shows the fearless military world beyond the immediate confines of a fearsome environment where human contact is more or less limited to one telling scene where Macbeth grabs at his Lady's breast, rather as if checking for fruit in a supermarket. Having obviously decided that he doesn't like what he feels, he relinquishes his grip whatever else knits Shakespeare's most celebrated power couple together, on this occasion, it isn't sex.

At times, you feel the production reaching for effects it doesn't always earn, as if Goold were wanting to turn Shakespeare's most distilled tragedy into a piece of installation art. (I can just see Ward's set on view somewhere in Hoxton.) For every reinvention that works - staging the banquet scene twice, either side of the intermission, so as to make a point about subjectivity in Shakespeare - emerges one that at times seems to be gilding the classical lily: at one point, the witches strike the most peculiar of poses, as if preparing to audition for the Merce Cunningham dance troupe. But making a true ensemble out of what can sometimes seem a one man show, there's much to commend beyond Stewart's firm-voiced, fully attuned and selfless occupancy of the title role. The distinguished support includes Tim Treloar as a bespectacled Ross who becomes the hapless butt of th


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