Iqbal Khan’s production of Macbeth begins with a striking image of the human wreckage of war. The stage is littered with body parts. A small boy pulls back a black sheet to reveal a mound of corpses from which emerge four witches. They bring to life the corpse of a sergeant who will carry the message of the battle to the King.
It is an atmospheric opening to a production which has many strengths. Of these the confident acting of Ray Fearon as Macbeth is its strongest element. What he says seems to have psychological depth and is clearly expressed with such a charm that it is easy to understand why other characters’ might trust him. His close and warm relationship with Lady Macbeth (Tara Fitzgerald) is very believable.
Other actors also help to hold our attention. Jacob Fortune-Lloyd gives a sensitive performance as Macduff.
However there are some strange things happening in this production that undermine its strength.
There is the minor matter of the witches wandering round distractingly carrying parts of the human body. Their words are sung in a way that makes it difficult to understand their meaning or even regard them as anything more than theatrical atmosphere.
Intentionally and accidentally they add comic elements to the play that don’t always work. Sam Cox as Duncan is an amiable mischief who practically smothers Banquo (Jermaine Dominique) in an embrace, kneels before Macbeth and arrives to the Macbeth’s home in a comic dance. But there are also the curious pauses and stresses he inserts into his lines. These include a very crude and blatant sexual innuendo to Lady Macbeth when he says of Macbeth that ‘He rides well.’
However the laughter was at its greatest in Nadia Albina’s manic comic turn as the Porter in the castle of Macbeth, particularly when she said in response to the knocking at the gate, ‘knock, knock! Who's there, i' the name of Trump’.
Funny though these are they didn’t really add anything to our understanding of the play Macbeth. There were also less successful moments of humour, as when Ray Fearon arrives on stage after the porter’s scene looking highly amused despite having just murdered Duncan, or when the King’s messenger Ross tells Macbeth and Banquo to ‘Calm down’. The production might have intended these to be funny but they can’t have wanted the laughter that broke out when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks in distress.
Despite the clarity and consistency of Ray Fearon as Macbeth, Tara Fitzgerald seems uncertain what to do with the role of Lady Macbeth. At times she seems casual, even flippant, but never in such a confident way that it gave pace and speed to the lines. Instead there is a plodding emphasis on individual words as if testing their relative importance.
There are some minor puzzles with this production. Although the text may be clear that the Macbeth’s have no children, here we see them wandering around with a small child in tow.
There is also a mixture of costumes with Macbeth going into battle dressed for war in the medieval period while Malcolm’s army arrives in twentieth-century khaki. As he raised his sword I half expected one of them to pull out a gun to shoot him.
That might have at least cut the running time which at three hours for this, one of Shakespeare’s shorter plays is hard on those who have to stand in the yard or sit on Globe benches that have no backs.
This is all the same a production that is enjoyable and accessible. Some parts of it will irritate but there is much that made me glad I saw it