Something timid this way comes. The National’s Macbeth fails to excite
Rufus Norris, the artistic director at the National Theatre, isn’t having a great time right now. While his predecessor Nicholas Hytner is having a ball at the helm of the new Bridge Theatre down the riverbank, Norris has suffered a string of flops in the Olivier, from a sand-blasted Salome to the bafflingly coarse Common.
It almost seems fitting that this ruinous run should culminate in the Bard’s most unlucky play, Macbeth, which he directs himself. Even a duo as talented as Rory Kinnear and Marie Anne-Duff fail to conjure up enough charisma to save it.
Kinnear’s compelling, but his murderous ambition just isn’t convincing. His uncertain Thane is an insubstantial man, wheedled into murder by his desperately depressed Lady. She comes in many fantastic flavours – sexy, persuasive, coldly calculating – but, alas, Duff has chosen vanilla.
Set in a post-apocalyptic nowhere, our clans are mercenaries clad in scraps and masking tape. Bin bags rustle from the ramparts, and King Duncan raves rather than feasts. There is something thrillingly nihilistic about a futuristic Macbeth; instead of consigning our base, Darwinian natures to a primitive past, it suggests the worst of humanity is yet to come.
The porter is also conceptually solid. Often cut out of the play completely, he creeps around this production almost constantly, climbing up poles and peeking around huts. With his stringy grey hair, oversized glasses and Geordie lilt, he’s a darkly comic character straight from BBC’s Psychoville.
While there are flashes of brilliance, none of it hangs together and that’s probably because it’s been pretty brutally edited. Don’t get me wrong, we could all do without Lady Macbeth washing her hands for 20 minutes, but no “something wicked this way comes”? And forget “When shall we three meet again”, these witches – and Macbeth lives and dies on its witches – seem like they’ve never met. A gloomy one, a normie one, a spritely one, they’re paper thin caricatures, differentiated just so you can tell them apart.
With such a stellar cast, and the Olivier to fill, it’s curious – and a little crushing – to find a Macbeth so lacking in scale and ambition.