Lowry Theatre, Salford – until Saturday 6th October 2018
Reviewed By Dawn Smallwood
After a successful run in London, National Theatre’s Macbeth embarks on a national tour with its first stop at Salford Lowry’s Theatre. National Theatre is reputed for its ground breaking and critically acclaimed productions that some have been in receipt of long runs in London’s West End such as War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. They are endeavouring to reach out to a wider audience especially schools. This is certainly evident from seeing many school groups present at the theatre and it proves Macbeth is popular as the Shakespeare’s tragedy is studied at GCSE level in many secondary schools.
Set after the civil war, Macbeth, follows the lives of Macbeth (Michael Nardone) and Lady Macbeth (Kirsty Besterman) who are determined to seize power to become king and queen at all costs including murder and afterwards venture on a course of self destruction. The play explores strong and bloody themes of murder, misuse of power, manipulation, corruption and psychology. The themes are set in deep rooted superstition, witchcraft and the supernatural which were condemned at the time but is widely believed and practised.
What strikes immediately is the staging – it is visually stunning! Rae Smith, an award winning stage designer, puts her creativity and talent onto the stage. The set is modern, dark and eerily atmospheric which is perfectly appropriate for Macbeth. The stage isn’t cluttered whatsoever which enables the audience the opportunity to fully appreciate the characters and the unravelling of the plot.
Moritz Junge’s contemporary costumes work so well and certainly break down the traditional perceptions that are usually associated with staging Shakespeare on stage. Junge ensures maximum focus on the tragedy and what are admired are the lead characters randomly wearing brightly coloured costumes which symbolises and prompts any significant activity in the upcoming scenes that will change the characters’ lives forever.
The staging and costumes work so well with Paul Arditti’s soundscapes and modern music (composed by Orlando Gough and Marc Tritschler), which has a familiarity to it, but ties in nicely and transitionally. Paul Pyant’s dimmed lighting reflects the sombre and tragic spirit of Macbeth and yet the characters’ spotlights aren’t at all compromised.
What is capturing is the presence of the Three Witches (Elizabeth Chan, Evelyn Roberts, and Olivia Sweeney) at the beginning and at crucial points during the performance is its chilling, eerily and hypnotic sounds. They seductively influence the characters’ courses of action particularly Macbeth’s. Incredible lighting is used effectively for Banquo’s ghost (Patrick Robinson) and how the silhouetted presence during the banquet in the first act unsettles Macbeth indefinitely and also his fate at the end of the second act.
The performances of Nardone as Macbeth and Besterman as Lady Macbeth epically stand out and they portray the characters superbly. Another memorable performance is from Robinson as Banquo with the character’s key presence on the stage at the beginning and this ghostly presence after he was murdered. Rest of the company are excellent and the performance flows smoothly under the direction of Rufus Norris.
The adaptation doesn’t compromise the story line and plot however it is refreshing not to rely just on the action and the goriness alone to dramatise the plot as the stunning staging do this as well. Macbeth is and will be a popular tragedy to see on stage for many and this particular production minimises distraction and encourages equivocal focus which the audience can draw their thoughts and feelings from. This contemporary production will no doubt be a success on its tour and is a must see as it is absolutely wonderful from beginning to end. It is a testament that Shakespeare wrote ahead of his time and centuries later Macbeth and the themes drawn from it is just as relevant today on the world stage as when it was first written.