William Shakespeare
Lincoln Center Theater
Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, New York

Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff Credit: T Charles Erickson

Sometimes, theatre offers odd conjunctions. Seeing this Macbeth on the same day as Bedlam’s Hamlet demonstrates how differently companies and directors can see and produce the works of the Bard.

Lincoln Center Theater is as close to ethos of a major British subsidised company as one can get in New York. Indeed, the previous show in this, their largest, space was War Horse, which was one of many imports from the National over the years.

In some ways, Jack O’Brien’s vision of the Scottish Play appears directly driven by a gigantic budget that he seems to have taken considerable trouble to spend.

He utilises a cast approximately seven times the size of Bedlam’s led by a Hollywood star in Ethan Hawke, has a thrust stage space to get lost in and expensive set and soundscape. These should be the ingredients to create something amazing.

In fact, the production looks over-directed and, while it is very original, there are times when the very full script running to almost three hours can get lost in the invention, not helped by Hawke’s laid-back manner, which is not always that of a traditional war-like monarch.

In this case, the power behind the throne has come over from Britain. The pick of the performers, Anne-Marie Duff is an imposing Queen, happy to drive on her husband far beyond his own ambitions. The actress peaks in the sleepwalking scene, which is both moving and frightening.

From the start, it is clear that this will be an unusual Macbeth. The wyrd sisters are played androgynously and cynically by men (Byron Jennings, John Glover and Malcolm Gets—all highly regarded Broadway actors) and, in addition to the rarely seen Hecate, are supplemented by a feline quartet to catch the eye and ear.

They herald a nightmarish evening through which much that takes place could be happening in the heads of the protagonists rather than real life.

In the early scenes, everyone is dressed in black, which becomes telling as first Macbeth puts on a symbolically scarlet gown before his wife appears in virginal white and then the pair don gold at his spectacular enthronement.

In terms of period and setting, the costumes suggest USA some time in the second half of the nineteenth century.

This would account for Macbeth’s drawling delivery, which contrasts with Richard Easton’s more patrician tones and his wife’s received (English) pronunciation.

Miss Duff’s husband James McAvoy has already thrillingly played Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd this year and one might wonder what made the couple take on these roles separately, perhaps a desire to avoid the possibility that their marriage might follow that of their characters?

The strengths of this evening generally lie in a series of dark images, none more memorable than the reappearance of Brian D’Arcy James’s dead Banquo sporting a necklace of bloody daggers.

Also worthy of note was the appearance of the hirsute English, looking exactly like well-groomed extras from the Planet of the Apes.

Jack O’Brien’s reading draws heavily on the supernatural, which dilutes the drama of an evening that is offbeat rather than thrilling.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

Are you sure?