There are decent moments in Rufus Norris’ Macbeth, now touring following its run at the National last year, though in the main it feels fairly flat and unadventurous. Despite some moving moments, this National Theatre offering is missing energy and adventure.
It opens engagingly enough, the three witches nimbly climbing the high poles of Rae Smith’s set. This action is repeated during the production, however, and grows tired quickly. It lacks oomph throughout; even a party scene early on seems devoid of anyone really ‘going for it’. That said Deka Walmsley as the Porter certainly injects some energy into things, which in turn appears to rub off a little on his fellow actors.
Concerning violence, the fighting is boring; the performers are given dull choreography which they don’t execute all that convincingly – barring one instance of disarming which is smoothly done. At one stage Lady Macduff (Lisa Zahra) is given some bags filled with bits of her dead kids, a moment that did go some way to moving me, much aided by Helen Katamba in the role of a murderer – her smile is chillingly spiteful as Lady Macduff inspects the contents of the bags. The visual that comes later of Lady Macduff carrying them is also quite harrowing, the domesticity of her holding them like shopping carriers contrasting with the gore they contain.
There are parts where things are overdone and parts when you wish for a tad more. The ghost of Banquo (Patrick Robinson) walking the stage with a bloodied head works well, until Robinson’s somewhat exaggerated widening of his eyes which tips the segment into the comical. At the other end of the spectrum, Lady Macbeth’s (Kirsty Besterman) knocking over of a chair at the close of the first half could have been achieved more violently.
Besterman does explore tone and volume effectively though, and evokes laughter with the line, “You have displaced the mirth.” This follows Macbeth’s (Michael Nardone) well-acted hysteria at a friendly group gathering. It’s a flash of comedy which I don’t see as inappropriate (though whether it’s meant to be so I couldn’t say).
The second half opens with cast members donning dead-people face masks on the backs of their heads, pleasingly pushing the production into the vicinity of the twisted – but it strays too far from this area the rest of the time to engross me. It seems odd to say it of Macbeth, but I can’t help thinking there’s more fun to be had with it than displayed here.
Macbeth plays New Theatre Oxford until 12 January