‘Macbeth hath murdered sleep!’ rings through the auditorium but is received by dozing silence. I shake myself out of another restless haze and try to focus on what is supposed to be the psychological battle between fate and selfhood, but the actors seem as uninterested as I am.
Rufus Norris’ adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play of ambition and terror falls flat. The gore is literally laughed at, the action is embarrassingly amateur, and the acting excessively bland. It is impossible to connect with the characters, or to even identify them amongst the sea of similarly cliché wasteland attire of beanies and battered Barbours.
Macbeth’s inner turmoil is nowhere to be found, every line is spoken with the same harsh monotone, and the chemistry between Macbeth and his wife especially fails to reach the minimum amount of authenticity before feeling like a cheap necessity. The iconic power couple of drive and murder are here just weak shadows of themselves. The witches, draped in plastic sheets, twirl and clamber around on poles and speak in robotic reverb, practically banished to the wings from the production entirely. It is hugely disappointing that their menace has been cut, with their chants of ‘toil and trouble’ replaced with a lot of staring and body rolls.
After a sharp burst of enthusiasm and energy at the beginning, the pacing of the production just as swiftly buckles and lumbers towards an anti-climatic end, featuring a silly sword fight and messy choreography. The accompanying sound design is discordant, a strange, clashing combination that sounds more like tortured elephants and squeaky bicycle wheels than spooky apocalyptic ambience.
What is left to be effective is the stage design, which succeeds in creating atmosphere when nothing else will. The stage is drowned in black sheets that create an effective illusion of depth and the sense of something creeping in the shadows, and from the back wall protrudes a ramp that functions as a battlement and forest. It is an imposing set that is used well and conveys a good sense of hardiness that the rest of the production fails to.
Despite the wealth of interesting ideas evident throughout the production, the overall show itself is tedious. Uninspired acting and a lazy sense of pace makes for a dull play, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
PHOTOS: Brinkhoff Mögenburg (all photos from the original London production)