A series of scintillating moments elevated the Crucible’s 40th birthday celebration of the Bard’s spooky Scottish tragedy from the merely very good to the excellent.
Much of the magic emanated from director Daniel Evan’s decision to stage the play in the round and Richard Kent’s minimally naturalistic set design which focused the action on a central point allowing the violent exertions of the protagonists to wheel around the bullseye with pace and precision.
It was from here that - without giving too much away - the ghost of Banquo erupts in bloody horror disturbing the lavish feast of the troubled usurpers with ghoulish splendour.
The centre spot also doubles as a brilliant cauldron in which the declining Macbeth glimpses his unwelcome future after the witches have charged its bubbling potion with a procession of eagerly-glimpsed ingredients.
The flashy bits aside, the success of this production was built firmly on a series of outstanding performances. At first it seemed that Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Macbeth might be too weak ever to snatch power in a blood-soaked regicide. But it was this flaw that made him vulnerable to the scheming ambitions of the demurely satanic Claudie Blakley as Lady Macbeth.
The couple give us glimpses of the twisted sexual chemistry that underpins their bloodlust and drives a vaunting ambition which so quickly turns to dust as guilt and fear of discovery overtake the rewards of power. David Ganly meanwhile makes a robust Banquo while Christopher Logan excels as both comic and criminal after his Bleeding Captain hemorrhages spectacularly in the opening scene.
As well as emphasising the supernatural element, the production takes few prisoners when it comes to the violence which drives the narrative. The murder of Lady Macduff and his son is as ever a brutal illustration of the deadly realities of violent political change – not just in that age but any age. Macbeth’s clutching of the gently cawing baby Macduff during the lead up to the battle was perhaps a little far fetched although the final sword fight encounter saw sparks literally fly before we are treated to the arrival of the defeated king’s head on a stick.
The action throughout was brilliantly lit and the sound design brought a suitably unsettling edge to proceedings. Director Daniel Evans said he wanted to use the setting to explore the darker side of the human psyche through 360 degrees and engulf the audience in the character’s psychological complexities. He succeeded on both fronts.
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