A ghost of a fine drama

MACBETH QUEEN'S THEATRE LONDON

IN JOHN Crowley's spartan West End production of Macbeth, there is a baffling and characteristically perverse staging of the celebrated scene in which a supper party, thrown by the newly crowned Macbeth, is disrupted when the butchered Banquo's ghost makes two appearances to the bloody tyrant. In the version originated here, we see Banquo being brutally battered to death and then, in an eerie dissolve, the banquet table descends and covers his corpse.

So far, so clever (he's the couple's hidden secret). The trouble is that in the subsequent scene, his spectre never actually emerges. So when Rufus Sewell's terrified Macbeth remonstrates with what looks like an empty stool, flings wine over it, and furiously stabs it, he seems to be going bonkers.

The perspective of the theatre audience is scarcely different from that of the embarrassed guests, whereas the drama of this brilliant episode depends purely upon the disparity between their view of the unfolding situation and ours. We know, chillingly, that it is not, or not only, in Macbeth's imagination.

If the ghost fails to materialise in the above scene, then so does any real sense of the horror and harrowing sadness of this tragedy in the production as a whole.

Rufus Sewell is a fine, sexy actor and elsewhere has moistened many a gusset with his Byronic smoulderings. But, stockier and more bullet-headed than of yore, he looks to be badly out of his depth in this killer-role, which has defeated an illustrious list of leading thespians from Peter O'Toole to Derek Jacobi.

Deploying a tight, husky voice, he wrenches the rhythms of the verse this way and that, and is either too indulgently slow and mannered or gabblingly fast. Listening to his speeches is like trying to study the beauties of an Old Master drawing while it's being dangled in a tearing, capricious wind. Shakespeare's characterisation of Macbeth is a masterly study in moral disintegration, but its supreme genius lies in the way the hero continues to excite an appalled human sympathy. "I `gin to be aweary of the sun" is one of the greatest lines in the canon, its drained music that of a man who has been hollowed out by experience. Not here, though, with a Macbeth who kicks the walls like a petulant schoolboy.

Matters would be helped if one could begin to believe in the hero's marriage to Sally Dexter's pneumatic, raven-tressed and significantly older Lady Macbeth. Dexter, too, can be a formidable actress. But here the crudeness of the direction defeats her. The unravelling of the couple's relationship, with the murder of Duncan as the watershed, is signalled with all the subtlety of a "Before and After" advert. First seen with her swelling bosoms barely confinable within a precipitously plunging neckline, Dexter appears, post-killing and Coronation, buttoned up to the nostrils. It's that telegraphic.

In a recent interview, Sewell quipped that "most Shakespeare productions do fail... at least with Macbeth, they have an excuse". A canny insurance policy: for, with its risibly uncreepy Oirish witches and its glassed- in and unthreatening apparitions, like exhibits from the V&A costume department, this production needs all the excuses it can find.

Paul Taylor

Box office: 0171-494 5040

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit