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Macbeth, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review with pictures

Theatre & Comedy | Published:

‘Blood will have blood’ - and rarely is the lesson driven home to Macbeth in so relentlessly dark and gruesome a manner.

Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear in Macbeth NT Live. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

This production of Shakespeare’s great tragedy, streamed live from London's National Theatre, came to Market Drayton Festival Centre not set on a blasted heath and castle battlements of 11th century Scotland, but instead a few years in the future.

"There’s been a civil war," explained director Rufus Norris.

"The environment is wrecked. The internet’s down, the National Grid’s down, the banks have no money. Everyone’s suffering post-traumatic stress."

This strikingly desperate, dangerous world was created by a rotating set that included shattered concrete bunkers and an arched ramp that loomed like a disconnected fragment of an inner-city flyover.

Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth NT Live. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Costumes were put together from random booty, cardboard, and wrapping tape. Knives and plastic bags dripping with blood were also prolific during the show.

The music was comprised of haunting hoots and foghorn wind, as if from the ghosts of factories.

Against all this, Rory Kinnear’s Macbeth and his lady, Anne-Marie Duff, at first appeared together almost soft and sympathetic. The creative team streaming the performance to cinemas could utilise close-ups to focus on the actors onscreen.

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This intimacy provided by the camera gave power to the astonishingly rich poetry of the play. We could almost feel Kinnear fold to a dithering wreck after murdering King Duncan and experience his inner flinch when Duff accused him of being ‘infirm of purpose’ in covering his tracks.

Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff in Macbeth NT Live. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Macbeth’s tyranny grew beyond his wife’s encouragement and control with a spiral of murder feeding insecurity, fuelling further violence. The mental anguish of both players was painfully detailed.

Kinnear’s breakdown at the banquet - eaten from five ex-army billy cans - when he saw the ghost of Banquo was frighteningly real. Duff’s sleepwalking scene and her ‘out damned spot’ mad rubbing of clean hands was equally powerful.

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By the time Macduff’s wife and children had been dispatched, Lady Macbeth had killed herself, and as prophesied, Birnam Wood was on its way to Dunsinane, Kinnear delivered his ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech with a subtle facial tic that said it all.

I expected my focussing on a facial tic rather than one of the most profound speeches in Shakespeare might find exception among the large group of GCSE literature students in the Festival Centre audience. Their studies after all are focussed on the text.

Rory Kinnear as Macbeth in Macbeth NT Live. Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

Chatting during the interval, one of them told me the beheading in the opening 30 seconds was ‘a bit shocking’ but all praised the post-apocalyptic setting for giving them a different perspective on the play.

At the end they came out buzzing with excited chatter peppered with the word ‘brilliant’.

For those who prefer their three witches stirring a cauldron between prophecies instead of sitting atop poles or darting round like demons – you can enjoy a medieval Scottish Macbeth in the grounds of Stafford Castle from June 28 to July 14.

By John Hargreaves

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