Macbeth – Wilton’s Music Hall, London

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Paul Hart

Mired in the tumult of stylish flourishes to this Macbeth are lean, evocative streaks of great drama. The rock and roll attitude and swagger amplifies nuance to make it brash, so some subtleties of the work is lost. It makes up for this in energy, pump and experience though – it’s Macbeth for sure, and it’s inventive. Can it compare to the depth of a well-produced classical version? Not really, but it’s a good night at the theatre nonetheless.

The story remains the same. Macbeth experiences a visitation from the spirits, three of whom make a prophecy that will see him Thane of Glamis, then Thane of Cawdor, then King of Scotland. The information sets off a bloody journey of killing and war, madness and paranoia that only ends with the death of (by then, King) Macbeth at the hands of a former friend.

The play is famous for its atmosphere, for its examination of guilt and remorse, madness and ambition. Certainly, the madness and ambition are revealed here, but the psychological links, so important to the story, between action and consequence are missing. Billy Postlethwaite’s Macbeth is a charismatic leader – a fantastic stage presence. The rangy, freewheelin’, physical style of his interactions and threats to all around him overawe all on stage – the capacity for violence and bloodthirst is writ large and it’s enjoyable watching his descent from favoured general to slain foe.

As his wife, Lady Macbeth, more a gangster’s moll than royalty, Emma McDonald provides a sensual but cruel foil. The character’s balance between ambition and vulnerability is touched on, but washed away a little in the pulse of the performance.

With live and searingly electrified music (played on stage by the cast, using instruments as weapons at times – a nice touch) it feels like we’re being whipped to a frenzy rather than encouraged to recognise the tensions in the characters. Cheap tricks (rather than their own castle, the Macbeth’s seem to operate a hotel with a sign that turns to H__EL when the king is murdered) and a rather good light show (take a bow Tom White) add to the “wow” but not much to the emotional heft of the show.

That theme can serve for the production overall. It’s highly entertaining, with some solid performances and quality moments, but all things considered, just tells a good story rather than conveys the deep human truths the play was originally written to do.

Runs until 8 Feb 2020 

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