“All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” Power and glory loom large in Lazarus Theatre‘s new production of the Scottish Play, with the associated pageantry punctuating the beginning, middle & end. This particular Shakespeare play has proved very popular over recent months, its eventually tyrannical title character and the ensuing civil war clearly striking a chord in these troubled times.
What’s also interesting is how distinct these many productions have managed to be, choosing to focus more strongly on different themes that are present in the play, or providing wildly different contexts in which the action can play out. The basic story, of course, remains the same: the distinguished soldier Macbeth takes his destiny into his own hands, murdering Kind Duncan to gain the Scottish crown and attempting to preserve his new position with an increasing body count. In this production, Malcolm & Donalbain are Duncan’s brothers rather than his sons, so Macbeth is still overlooked as a potential heir to the throne but this time all the players are of the same generation which could create different tensions.
It all takes place over quite a short period of time, heightened in intensity by the approximately two-hour running time; the coronations of three very different kings (wrestling with meritocracy versus heredity) in that time can’t help but invite comparisons to the state of modern politics, both in the UK and the US – whether it’s Trump sacking anyone who disagrees with him and placing his unqualified children in important positions, or the constant changes in leadership in the UK’s major political parties, as well as constant cabinet reshuffles and the placing of unelected figures in the cabinet & Number 10.
What I really admire about this production (on top of its cutting of the oft awkward Porter scene) is its boldness and clarity in design. The gold of the coronations, the vivid red blood, the clever use of light and shade… Alex Musgrave’s lighting design draws the eye and creates some great silhouettes to bring just a touch of the supernatural to this famously spooky play – this is particularly well done when Macbeth is in conversation with the Weird Sisters, shrouded in darkness and amplified by microphones.
As ever it’s a terrific ensemble effort, but I’d like to highlight three of the main players. David Clayton impresses both as a gory Weird Sister and also as the vengeful Macduff, taking his task in his stride as he heads for a final showdown with his family’s murderer. Alice Emery is strong and confident as the ambitious Lady Macbeth, both persuasive and supportive when her husband questions their chosen path – but ultimately left feeling guilty and alone. Jamie O’Neill takes the eponymous character on quite a rollercoaster ride, starting off as a regular & respected soldier contributing to the war effort, before being slowly seduced by the power that seems to be within his reach – though after enjoying his coronation perhaps a bit too much (smirking and winking at the audience) it all goes rapidly downhill, as he becomes resigned to his true fate.
This Macbeth is probably my favourite Lazarus Shakespeare production since their glorious version of The Taming of the Shrew back in 2017. Its compact running time and focused direction (Ricky Dukes) means it is inclusive and engaging, making this a great introduction to the Scottish Play and Shakespeare in general.
My verdict? A bold production of the Scottish Play with a heavy focus on power and ambition – a great introduction to Macbeth and Shakespeare.
Macbeth runs at Greenwich Theatre until 7 March 2020. Tickets are available online or from the box office.