The numerous co-producers of Edward Hall's latest version of Macbeth have gambled all on their two big screen names. Sean Bean has long been a big draw, particularly as television's Sharpe, while Samantha Bond has become Miss Moneypenny in her namesake's films.
The producers are probably very happy with the result, since the Albery is filling every night with an audience that is not usually accustomed to theatre-going. In particular, the school parties are enthralled. The combination of Edward Hall's exciting production qualities and the chance to see these two big names is proving to be enough to silence both mobile phones and chatter.
Edward Hall has been making a name for himself in producing very fast-paced, slick Shakespeare and Macbeth is no exception. The design by Michael Pavelka is fantastic. The play is set in some post-nuclear era of destruction. The characters wear modern dress and, in one case, the English soldiers are represented as sci-fi stormtroopers.
Right from the off, the audience is grabbed by the throat as both sound and spectacle combine. The transitions between scenes are always fast and there is rarely a chance to draw breath. Often, comment is silently made by the presence of either the ethereal weird sisters (witches) watching their prophesies come true, or by the increasing numbers of the dead who returned to haunt our hero and heroine.
The problem with the production is that its central characters do not always convince. As Macbeth, Sean Bean uses a broad Yorkshire accent and seems far more like a swaggering farmer than a king. His acting is always studied and until the final few scenes, where he really comes into his own, it is not easy to see why this man would have ascended the throne. The accent problem is not helped by the use of Received English by both his wife and also all of the noblemen.
Samantha Bond as Lady Macbeth drives her husband on towards his ambition but once again, until madness creeps in, her performance, like that of her king, can lack a little true passion.
With two small cameos, Julian Glover almost steals the show. Firstly, he is a truly regal King Duncan, whose main flaw is to trust an underling who will kill him. A few minutes later, complete with a Scottish accent, he returns as a comic porter who runs rings around the noblemen.
It is worth going to see this production of Macbeth both for its production qualities and its big names. There is also a pleasure in sitting in a large audience filled with many almost silent, totally engrossed schoolchildren. The impact is always cinematic and it may be that if this Macbeth is ever filmed, it could be very effective. In the long-term though, it is unlikely that this will be remembered as one of the great theatrical productions of the play.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher