Macbeth is a masterpiece on the page, but it rarely works on the stage. In my experience it has, until now, only been pulled off twice. I have seen Trevor Nunn's production with Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench on video and it is masterly. Greg Doran's version at the Swan, with Antony Sher and Harriet Walter, moved with the swiftness of a slasher's knife. And now up there with those rarities is this extraordinary production by Rupert Goold, which began life at the Minerva Studio in Chichester and has now transferred to the West End.
It says a lot for this Macbeth that I almost had to get help to go back in after the interval. It conjures up a sense of such palpable evil that I dreaded re-entering the theatre. It's also a mark of the flair of the production that the break is taken halfway through the dinner party scene with Banquo.
Patrick Stewart might seem a little old for Macbeth, yet the age difference between him and Kate Fleetwood's unnerving Lady Macbeth makes emotional sense of a play that can feel as though there's a missing link as a result of cutting.
The break in the banquet scene shows the cleverness with which Goold has construed this tragedy. He gives us two conflicting perspectives – we see it from the hero's horrified point of view and from the guests' as an embarrassing farce. And he cuts it with the interval.
Goold has managed to retain the suffocating sense of evil that he brought to Chichester on the wider plains of the West End stage. It is set in a kind of nether-world kitchen-cum-abattoir with a lift that creepily descends, bringing people into the hero's fatal orbit.
Stewart speaks the verse with great rhythmic sensitivity. He is acutely aware of the divide in this hero – Macbeth is reduced to the status of butcher and yet at the same time he seems to exfoliate as a human being even as he sinks into the cauldron of inhumanity.
Keats talks about the feeling of feeling. With Macbeth, it's the feeling of not being able to feel any more. Stewart gets the greatness as well as the disgusting side of that loneliness. It's a noble production that dignifies the West End and everyone associated with it.
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