- 21 Jan 19
Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow.
In the opening scene of Macbeth, the three witches decide when they shall meet again, a conversation much like those which must inevitably be had when a director pitches another retelling of Shakespeare. Alongside Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, Macbeth ranks as one of the most enduring of the bard’s creations. With themes of greed, power, and bloody warfare, its universality has made it stand the test of time.
But in an age of connection and disconnection, with both more and less information, the Scottish play feels particularly relevant. We live in an age of confusion. Power has been usurped by those undeserving, appearances are often in sharp contrast to realities, and everyone wears ill-fitting clothes (thanks to the 90s resurgence).
It is the attention paid to these two elements that made this production of Macbeth directed by National Theatre Artistic director Rufus Norris a true success. Set in the present day following a civil war, the action of the play unfolds in a contemporary war zone. Soldiers wear army regalia and brandish machetes. Severed heads are placed in plastic bags. Duncan dons a bright red suit and is greeted upon his arrival at Inverness by dance music and industrial sized tanks of alcohol (and let’s all pray this is indeed a feature of any future apocalypse).
Macbeth is a play oft noted for its investigation of gender and this production makes use of the theme in a timely and interesting fashion. Banquo’s issue who “will be kings” is, in this production, a girl. A similar gender swap is made for Macduff’s ‘son’. Lady Macbeth is a formidable force particularly during the first half of the play and her rebukes such as “are you a man?” packs quite a different punch coming from a Lady Macbeth clad in army gear, saddled with a machete on her belt.
The supernatural atmosphere that invades Macbeth, invades the set design wonderfully. Designed by Rae Smith, a bridge dominates the stage for the majority of the play, representing progress, movement, liminality, a journey into the unknown and the possibility of a downward fall - all at the same time. The smoke effects, lighting and music similarly combined to depict a world perched on the cusp of anarchy.
The role of Macbeth was taken up by Scottish Actor Michael Nardone, with Kirsty Besterman as Lady Macbeth, who gave galvanized performances, fiery and determined at the beginning and full of pathos by the end. The standout scene by far was Macbeth’s "tomorrow" speech, said as he discovers Lady Macbeth’s body after her suicide and cradles her in their bunker – the site of their former passion and dreams of glory.
Gripping, enduring and relevant, Rufus Norris’ production provides us with a Macbeth for our era.