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Macbeth

by on 9 July 2021

By the book

Macbeth

By William Shakespeare

The Lord Chamberlain’s Men at Chiswick House, 7 July; touring until September

Review by Matthew Grierson

TLCM’s production of Macbeth moves along at the pace of Raheem Sterling up the left of the field, and one suspects that the lads have half an eye on finishing the get-out in time to catch the end of the match. Why, their set of Gothic, rusty-looking battlements is even designed to come apart during the action, cunningly plucked into the bark of Birnam Wood by the advancing English army.

The driving rhythm of the piece is underpinned by the drumming of the weird sisters, presaging the haunting folk melody that accompanies them. But it also signifies the martial march of the action – and indeed, the pulse of blood through the play. It’s a production that hits all the expected beats.

As such Ronnie Yorke’s solid and dependable performance in the title role is emblematic. If anything, the dour Thane comes only to life once the deed is done and Duncan is dead. Until the murder, he is the dreich shadow of Laurie Scott, a king played bluffer than the “meek” monarch remembered by his killer.

The immovable object of Macbeth meets his irresistible force in the shape of Lady M: as the queen, Rhys Warrington gives a sparky performance, showing her descent from flinty ambition into madness in almost exact contrast to her husband’s ascent into his. It takes some cheek for her to tell him “Screw your courage” and pause, teasingly, before continuing with the line.

Doubling of the cast is effectively managed throughout, with some lightning-quick changes of costume and – perhaps less convincingly – of accent, with Duncan audibly the only Caledonian. As an ensemble, they work to good effect at the feast, their awkwardness as bystanders while Macbeth raves being a well-observed study of mannered embarrassment.

With an all-male cast, Banquo’s barbs about the witches’ beards offer a rare touch of humour. There’s another fine moment in Malcolm’s testing of Macduff: Maximillian Marston boggles entertainingly as the general while the young heir (Michael Faulkner) reels off a litany of licentiousness – which several world leaders might envy – before recanting his doubts.

For a play about a state’s descent into chaos under a tyrannous autocrat before its eventual restoration to order, one senses the production could lean into the text’s contemporary resonances a bit more without losing the audience’s enthusiasm, especially given that it has much to say about the troubled relationship between two nations.

But while a good-sized crowd have chosen to watch the Scottish play rather than the English play tonight, they are clearly here for similar reasons – to see something stirring and uncomplicated. By cleaving to authenticity, TLCM offer a comforting, nostalgic vision of how to do Shakespeare; the old normal, if you will.

‘Authenticity’ also gives an excuse to step away from the question of diversity on the stage – as well as being all male, the cast is all white. With plenty of time over the past year to reflect on this issue, it’s a shame that the Men have not taken an opportunity to address it.

After almost 18 months away from the stage, it is an undoubted pleasure to be back in the open air for actors and audience – and indeed this reviewer – to savour Shakespeare’s poetry well spoken. But for all the miles the company will travel on their tour, one wonders whether they might have taken the play itself a little further.

Matthew Grierson
July 2021

Photography by Jack Offord

From → Drama

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