First Night: Macbeth, Albery Theatre, London

Pedestrian production is nobody's finest hour
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

There's nothing remotely hag-like about the witches in the apparition scene in Edward Hall's new staging of Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Albery. The threesome emerge from the hero's marital bed as red-tressed seductive sirens in slinky satin gowns. It's goodbye, filthy rags; hello, glad rags.

There's nothing remotely hag-like about the witches in the apparition scene in Edward Hall's new staging of Shakespeare's Macbeth at the Albery. The threesome emerge from the hero's marital bed as red-tressed seductive sirens in slinky satin gowns. It's goodbye, filthy rags; hello, glad rags.

And who can blame them? When your date is Sean Bean, any girl – even the weirdest of sisters – would want to glam up. Besides, it's 13 years since this rugged heart-throb last trod a board. So, it's a theatrical red-letter night – isn't it?

Well, no, not really, I'm afraid. I have seen quite a few worse productions of this difficult play, but the current account is still a crude and disappointing venture from a director of the calibre of Edward Hall, rumoured to be one of the associates lined up for Nicholas Hytner's forthcoming regime at the National.

The setting here is the bombed-out ruins of some unspecified Balkan-style region. With his craggy, virile demeanour, Sean Bean certainly looks the part of the warrior, but his unvaried, four-square delivery of the speeches suggest an uncomplicated Yorkshire lad whose most insomnia- inducing idea of terror is the Sheffield United football team getting thrashed.

We are treated at the beginning to the spectacle of the witches investing him in his battle gear. This innovation rather complicates their first scripted meeting with Macbeth, when they need to come across as unfamiliar and unsettling.

The same heavy-handed approach bedevils the way that the production tries to trace the brilliant psychological arc of the Macbeths' descent from the fired-up fervour of joint ambition to madness and brutalised guilt.

It's just too unsubtle to have Samantha Bond – who could be a first-rate Lady Macbeth – read out her husband's letter while lingering on their double bed. The sexuality of this couple is vital to the meaning of the play, because it has, for some reason, had to be channelled into the desire for power. But you don't convey this by suggesting that their erotic life could be an example to us all.

The best performance comes from Mark Bazeley as Macduff, who gives you an electrifying portrayal of the character's torment at hearing news of the murder of his family and of his dismay when, in Hall's shrewd interpretation of the last scene, masked gunmen arrest the prospective earls – indicating that the new King Malcolm's regime may not be much healthier than Macbeth's.

Producing this tragedy in the West End is traditionally about as secure an investment prospect as opening a French blockbuster musical or a new play that was the toast of Oslo. Sean Bean's screen credits may assure the production's success. But it doesn't give you the desired balance between the warrior and the poet, the killer and the sensitive metaphysician. It's nobody's finest hour.

Comments