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Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Love is a battlefield in Rufus Norris’ National Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play, first seen on the South Bank in 2017 and revived in this recast touring version. This follows a mild critical wounding that caused some to suggest the show shouldn’t be let off the leash at all. Going by the strength and scale of the apocalyptic-looking fall-out that ensues in the production’s un-named war-zone, such attacks are barely justified, even if some of the stylistic excesses try a tad too hard.

The cobbled catwalk on Rae Smith’s deadly-black set that cuts through the centre of the stage and bridges the physical borders between nations is a clear enough reference, even if the Witches cavort like a goth pole-dancing troupe. Led by Michael Nardone as Macbeth, the khaki-soiled gang behave like squaddies on a stag-do, hanging up chopped-off heads as trophies. Perhaps they could feature in Macbeth’s castle, which resembles a bombed-out brutalist outhouse. The blood-letting banquet that follows looks like an M25 rave, which might go some way to explaining Macbeth hallucinating daggers and dead friends later on.

At the production’s heart amidst all the eeriness, Nardone’s Macbeth is a man out of his depth, whose ambition, like all would-be despots, is corrupted by envy, paranoia and sheer terror. Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Macbeth may initially believe she’s leading from behind, but she too hasn’t a clue where to go next. 

What becomes increasingly clear in Nardone and Besterman’s portrayals is just how traumatised the Macbeths are. Not solely by what they did and the seismic events they set in motion. These, in a weird way, are just forms of self-protection to make the abyss they’re staring into seem busy. The real trauma comes from the losses they suffered previously that drive them to cling to each other till death do them part no matter how extreme their actions. Both in this way are human time-bombs on slow self-destruct, haunted by the ghosts they’ve conjured up in a world terminally at war with itself.

The Herald, October 26th 2018



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