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A CurtainUp London London Review

Blood will have blood. — Macbeth
James McAvoy as Macbeth (Photo:Johan Persson)
Director Jamie Lloyd has taken over the main house at Trafalgar Studios for a season entitled Trafalgar Transformed. Certainly the auditorium seems less cramped and 70 seats, maybe five rows have been taken out of the main seating area and put at the rear of the stage very close to the action with broken leaded lights filling the top of the arch. But it is not just the auditorium that is transformed but the audience as the pricing is set to encourage a young audience.

This very Scottish Macbeth is almost post apocalyptic with its dystopian society and the noise of electrical short circuiting disrupting power. The cast are in modern dress and almost everyone will end up covered with blood at some stage in this visceral production. The weird sisters wear gas masks and khaki vests. We are told in the programme that they might be veteran soldiers returning from wars, their predictions derived from experience maybe?

Lloyd has asked everyone to concentrate on the text and seeing this Macbeth is like hearing some of the text for the very first time, such is clarity with which the verse is spoken in this oft-disaster of a play, with its run of bad luck and theatrical superstition. But it is James McAvoy's and director Lloyd's night.

Despite the violence of battle, Macbeth first appears to be a good man, a worthy soldier, a loyal subject, until "vaulting ambition" makes him over reach into regicide. The violence destroys all who touch it. Lady Macbeth (Claire Foy) pushes her husband into the killing of the king, the good old white haired Duncan (Hugh Ross) and the framing of his servants but then doesn't handle her queenship well and falls victim to obsessive cleansing of her hands. The noble soldier becomes a murderer of his guests, of his king, of his best friend and of women and children. Can post traumatic stress disorder explain that?

Forbes Masson as Banquo, in the same fight as Macbeth, will cleanse his hands in order to shake hands with the king but, like Macbeth, leave his face and head soaked in the red gore. I was waiting for them to clean up! I met someone on Friday night who said that Lloyd's Macbeth was so bloody, the blood was dripping through into the Studio 2 space below. I think the story was apocryphal but still the image is powerful. Eat your heart out Lucy Bailey!

There are plenty of powerful contemporary themes with the news and images of warfare that resonate with the play set around battlefield killings and the murders of anyone who might threaten Macbeth's hold on the kingdom. The murder of Lady Macduff (Allison McKenzie) and her child (rather than children here) is heartbreaking as she hides the child but he cries out to defend her reputation as the murderers abuse her and so gives away his hiding place in a cupboard under the dead body of his mother. In this production, in a deviation from the text, Macbeth himself, not his henchmen, murders the Macduff child. I also thought the banquet becoming a meal of stew out of pots unconventional but McAvoy sees the ghost of Banquo long before we do and acts in a disturbed fashion.

Claire Foy's Lady Macbeth is taunting as she chides her husband into the first ignoble act. We see Macbeth throw up in an onstage lavatory after the murder of the king. This production is the stuff of nightmares as the witches on the last visitation seem to clone themselves and reproduce. The English troops look like some kind of peace protest and the list of virtues from Malcolm (Mark Quartley) is really moving ("The king-becoming graces, / As justice, verity, temperance, stableness, / Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, / Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude"). And it is Malcom too who reminds us about the man Macbeth once was, "This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,/ Was once thought honest; you have loved him well".

James McAvoy is very likeable and a sympathetic figure but we are convinced by the murder of a child onstage of his descent into villainy. As he becomes more determined, so his wife starts to fade. Heart rending too is Macduff (Jamie Ballard) when told of the death of his wife and children. Macbeth talks about the old age he should have had, replaced by curses. The "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy is beautifully spoken, full of regret and reflection about the futility of life. When he hears that Macduff is not of woman born, Macbeth literally gives up what has been an excitingly staged fight, his confidence in the witches' prediction of immortality shattered.

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Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Starring: James McAvoy, Claire Foy
With Allison McKenzie, Lisa Gardner, Olivia Morgan, Hugh Ross, Graeme Dalling, Kevin Guthrie, Richard Hansell, Forbes Masson, Jamie Ballard, Catherine Murray, Callum O'Neill, Stuart Campbell/Ryan Elliott/Merin Monteath
Designed by Soutra Gilmour
Lighting: Adam Silverman
Music and Sound: Alex Baranowski
Movement: Ann Yee
Fight director: Kate Waters
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7615
Booking to 27th April 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd February 2013 at the Trafalgar Studios One, 14 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross)

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