×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: ‘Macbeth’ Starring Rory Kinnear

Director Rufus Norris makes a mess of ‘Macbeth’ at the National Theatre.

With:
Nadia Albina, Michael Balogun, Stephen Boxer, Anne-Marie Duff, Trevor Fox, Andrew Frame, Kevin Harvey, Sarah Homer, Hannah Hutch, Nicholas Karimi, Rory Kinnear, Joshua Lacey, Penny Lacey, Anna-Maria Nabirye, Patrick O'Kane, Amaka Okafor, Hauk Pattison, Alana Ramsey, Beatrice Scirocchi, Rakhee Shamar, Laetitia Stott, Parth Thakerar.

Here’s a real witches brew: a “Macbeth” so mangled it makes Hamlet look sane. For his first foray into Shakespeare’s Folio in 25 years, director Rufus Norris, also the artistic director of the National Theatre, has gone full-metal “Mad Max,” yanking the Scottish play out of its old, feudal state and dumping it down in some lawless, fallen future. This is a post-apocalyptic “Macbeth” of the sort Cormac McCarthy would fashion out of rusty cans and a stash of old coats. If it’s a vision of Brexit Britain, well, it looks a bit bleak. We’re leaving the European Union, not civilization itself.

Norris’s point, presumably, is that human power-play will continue long after the whole power system’s gone down. Vaulting ambition is in our very nature, whether or not there’s anything worth vaulting for. First seen beheading some poor bloke on the run, Rory Kinnear’s gruff, nutcase Macbeth looks like a cutthroat barbarian fighting for scraps, even if he speaks like a toff trying to blend in at the barber’s. In hacking his way to the crown, bumping off anyone that stands in his way, he gains next to nothing: a red suit instead of old rags, a slightly bigger concrete bunker for him and his wife. He ends up top dog among starving mongrels and strays. The crown, you think, can’t be worth the candle, but for this Macbeth and Annie-Marie Duff’s manic-pixie Lady Macbeth, it still holds its allure.

It’s so outright barmy that it’s hard to know whether it’s brave, bold or baloney. Norris has taken a play best compressed into a taut psychological drama and blown it up into something operatically overblown. Designer Rae Smith swamps the stage in black plastic – like liquid chaos bubbling up across Britain or the wings of a giant, ominous bat enfolded around it. A vast, curved wooden bridge swings across the stage like a deathtrap. It’s half hellish, half arts-and-crafts, so what ought to be eerie only ever feels effortful. The witches glitch, tick and whistle like three broken clocks. One sprints around like a cyclone, clucking ‘Mac/beth’; another’s still and starey as a high school goth; the third’s strewn with plastic doll limbs — three clichés untimely ripped from horror flicks. The production conjures neither a credible collapsed state nor a knowing genre rip-off.

Macbeth is the ultimate social climber – a craven man who kills his way to power. Take the social order away and he’s left with nothing to climb and no compunctions to stop him. If Macbeth is a savage in a savage world, he stops making sense. In a single fell swoop, Norris strips out the play’s stakes, obstacles and motivation.

Why aspire to be king when there’s no such thing as a kingdom? Stephen Boxer’s Duncan has no more power, wealth or security than anyone else in this godforsaken land. Why not murder if it’s a dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed world? And why worry about the repercussions of that when death’s an inevitability? Kinnear’s Macbeth looks like he’s meandering in a maelstrom, and as Lady Macbeth, Duff all but goes missing. Of course she does. How do you spur your husband into action when action is the only course of survival? In a tattered pink ballgown, Duff ends up chattering to herself.

In embracing the play’s chaos, swirling murder and supernatural powers, Norris only succeeds in making it feels shapeless. Doing so strips the tragedy of all its trajectory, and so Shakespeare’s play simply stops making sense. Unnecessary, almost arbitrary textual cuts don’t help, but this motiveless “Macbeth” is a real mess.

London Theater Review: 'Macbeth' Starring Rory Kinnear

Olivier, National Theatre, London; 1200 seats; £50 ($70) top. Opened, reviewed, March 6, 2018. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Production: A National Theatre production of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Rufus Norris; Design, Rae Smith; lighting, James Farmcombe; sound, Paul Arditti; costumes, Moritz Junge; music, Orlando Gough; movement, Imogen Knight.

Cast: Nadia Albina, Michael Balogun, Stephen Boxer, Anne-Marie Duff, Trevor Fox, Andrew Frame, Kevin Harvey, Sarah Homer, Hannah Hutch, Nicholas Karimi, Rory Kinnear, Joshua Lacey, Penny Lacey, Anna-Maria Nabirye, Patrick O'Kane, Amaka Okafor, Hauk Pattison, Alana Ramsey, Beatrice Scirocchi, Rakhee Shamar, Laetitia Stott, Parth Thakerar.

More Legit

  • CAROL CHANNING HERSCHFELD. Actress Carol Channing

    Remembering Carol Channing: A Master of Channeling the Power of Personality

    There was only one Carol Channing, and her outsize personality was a source of delight to many fans — and imitators. Gerard Alessandrini’s stage spoof “Forbidden Broadway” had many incarnations over the years, including the 1994 edition when an audience member was selected every evening to come onstage and impersonate Carol Channing with the cast. [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda Among Celebrities Remembering Carol Channing

    Viola Davis, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Bernadette Peters are among the slew of celebrities taking to Twitter to pay tribute to late singer, comedienne and actress Carol Channing. Known for her starring roles in Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “Gentleman Prefer Blondes,” the legend of the stage and screen died Tuesday at her home in Rancho Mirage, [...]

  • What the Constitution Means to Me

    Listen: How Things Got Scary in 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    For a decade, writer-performer Heidi Schreck had wanted to write a play inspired by her experiences as a teen debater. But over the years the show started to develop into something both urgently political and deeply personal — and things got scary. In the Broadway-bound “What the Constitution Means to Me,” Schreck reimagines her speech-and-debate [...]

  • Carol Channing Dead

    Carol Channing, Star of Broadway's 'Hello, Dolly!' and 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,' Dies at 97

    Larger-than-life musical stage personality Carol Channing, who immortalized the characters of Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and Dolly Gallagher Levi in “Hello, Dolly!,” has died. She was 97. Channing died Tuesday of natural causes at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. More Reviews Film Review: 'Pledge' TV Review: 'I Am the Night' Her publicist [...]

  • 'What the Constitution Means to Me'

    'What the Constitution Means to Me' Transfers to Broadway

    “What the Constitution Means to Me,” a buzzy Off-Broadway production that counts Hillary Clinton and Gloria Steinem among its fans, is making the move uptown. The play will come to Broadway this spring for a 12-week limited run at the Helen Hayes Theater. “What the Constitution Means to Me” is one part civics lesson, one [...]

  • Choir Boy review

    Broadway Review: 'Choir Boy'

    Honestly, I was afraid that “Choir Boy” — the sweetly exuberant account of a gifted prep school boy’s coming of age, written by “Moonlight” Oscar winner Tarell Alvin McCraney — would be swallowed up in a Broadway house, after winning us over in an Off Broadway staging in 2013.  But aside from the odd set [...]

  • Jason Robert Brown

    Listen: How Ariana Grande Got Jason Robert Brown to Madison Square Garden

    Broadway composer Jason Robert Brown never expected to find himself performing onstage at Madison Square Garden. But he did — thanks to his pal Ariana Grande. Brown met Grande before she was a superstar, when she was in the 2008 Broadway cast of his teen musical “13.” The two have kept in touch ever since [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content