×

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

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    StubHub Refunds $500,000 to Customers Shut Out by New York Blackout

    Saturday’s blackout in New York had an outsized effect on the city’s nightlife, with Madison Square Garden and the entire Broadway district seeing multiple shows cancelled due to the the power outage. As a result, StubHub has refunded more than $500,000 worth of tickets for cancelled events. According to a statement from the company, the StubHub [...]

  • Warner Music Group Logo

    Warner Music Acquires Musical Theater Indie First Night Records

    Warner Music Group has acquired First Night Record, an independent record label for West End and Broadway musical theatre cast recordings. The company will be overseen by WMG’s Arts Music Division, led by President Kevin Gore. First Night co-founder John Craig will join the Arts Music team under a multi-year consulting agreement to identify and record musical theatre productions in [...]

  • Broadway

    Broadway Back In Biz After Power Outage Ends

    The bright lights of Broadway were back on Sunday morning as midtown Manhattan recovered from a power outage that lasted nearly seven hours in some areas. Social media was full of examples of how New Yorkers rose to the occasion after the power went out on a hot Saturday night shortly before 7 p.m. ET. [...]

  • The dark Manhatten skyline, seen from

    Power Restored in New York City After Massive Outage Hits Broadway

    UPDATED: Power has gradually been restored to Midtown Manhattan and the theater district after what New York City officials described as a rolling blackout that darkened Times Square and other high-traffic areas on Saturday night. Officials said all power should be restored to the 73,000 customers affected by the outage by midnight ET. Local media [...]

  • Slave Play

    Controversial 'Slave Play' Is Broadway Bound

    “Slave Play,” a controversial drama that examined race and sexuality, is moving to Broadway for a limited run. Written by theatrical wunderkind Jeremy O. Harris, “Slave Play” was a sensation when it ran at the New York Theatre Workshop, drawing such bold-faced names as Madonna, Scarlett Johansson, and Tony Kushner. The show will debut at [...]

  • Mary Said What She Said

    Critic's Notebook: Seeing Isabelle Huppert and Dimitris Papaioannou in Paris

    “Do you miss Paris?” I get that question a lot, but never know what to say. How could I not? The two years I spent in that splendid city covering international cinema for Variety changed my life. “What do you miss most about Paris?” That’s a tough one too. The booksellers on the sidewalk in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content