Rufus Norris’ adaptation of Macbeth is a somewhat stilted production of the play which seems to champion aesthetics over dialogue. The Shakespearean classic concerns a general who is prophesied to become King of Scotland and, spurred by ambition, murders King Duncan and suffers the resulting madness.
The play revolves around a dystopian wasteland. As the lights dim and the plastic backdrop appears behind a recycled-looking stage, there is no sense of domesticity or subtle spookiness through which the play’s atmosphere traditionally operates. Rae Smith’s set is bleak, consisting almost exclusively of a rotating metallic ramp and three poles from which the re-imagined witches spout their modulated incantations. This is where the production initially falls short, the words are so ghastly and edited in order to feel completely disconnected from both the audience and the characters. The difficulty in understanding the witches and nearly every character in the play is pervasive, and thus total engagement on the part of a viewer is an improbable feat.
The individual performances ironically offer a brief respite from the ubiquitous brutality of the play. Lady Macbeth (Kirsty Besterman) is particularly impressive, and her well-enunciated soliloquy draws the audience in, albeit briefly. Equally, the scene in which Macbeth (Michael Nardone) finds his wife dead is so genuinely heartfelt that it allows one to forget the miserable ‘army bunker’ in which it seems to have taken place. This pivotal scene makes it all the more effective when the ghosts of Lady Macbeth, Banquo, and Lady Macduff are brought in for Macbeth’s final scene, a stylistic choice that seems both natural and inspired. Despite some cut lines and characters (noticeably Duncan’s son Donalbain), the characters included in the production are generally done justice and add a refreshing twist to what is typically portrayed in a production of Macbeth.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the play is that even a strong familiarity with the play is not enough to make sense of the unexplained, post-apocalyptic no man’s land. There is no defining exactly why the powers that be are fighting, or what is being fought for. In a society which seems completely overrun by anarchy and disorder, it’s difficult to conceptualise the catalysts or emotional implications of the Macbeths’ insurrection. Nevertheless, Norris’ attempt at creating a world which contains significant parallels to the state of conflict in some countries today is admirable and should be appreciated as an attempt at making a 17th century play more relevant today. However, Macbeth need not be so overstated or manipulated to be efficacious — its universality might be lost in translation.
Image: Brinkhoff Moegenburg