Young Vic Theatre, London (***)
If you come out of the theatre extolling the virtues of the set rather than the play, well, something’s amiss somewhere. Fine to re-cast Shakespeare in a mode for today but this is the second Young Vic Shakespeare whose obsession with modernity falls on the side of tricksy rather than illuminating.
Techno dub and video hub productions may appeal on paper or in the rehearsal room but when it comes to Shakespeare, words do matter. Or if you’re going to mess around with them (as Charles Marowitz used to do) or as the Wooster Group did with Chekhov, somewhere down the line, by the end, you have to feel a sense of intellectual or emotional justification, don’t you, or otherwise the journey just feels meaningless or a waste of time.
For once, Carrie Cracknell, award-winning director of the Young Vic’s A Doll’s House seems to have lost her way. At least, it’s not entirely her way but a joint way with choreographer Lucy Guerin. Together Cracknell and Guerin staged what many considered a successful Medea at the National. Both Doll’s House and Medea were fortunate in having towering central performances, in A Doll’s House from Hattie Morahan, in Medea from Helen McCrory.
This time Cracknell has John Heffenan, one of our finest young classical actors (Edward II, Oppenheimer to name but two) holding the whole thing together, as the doomed Scottish thane, charting Shakespeare’s perennially relevant portrait of political ambition and its bloody offspring of guilt, more blood and despair with exemplary clarity (though does he really need mic-ing?).
Cracknell’s direction certainly provides some clever, scene-shifting moments whilst Lizzie Clachan’s vortex design is a magnificent visual metaphor for Macbeth being sucked deeper into violence.
But the usually excellent Anna Maxwell Martin as Lady Macbeth and the three witches, dressed in ugly beige body tights cast little spell whilst Guerin’s choreography, in this considerably edited down version detracts rather than adding insight. Only in the climactic, truly terrifying finale involving pounding club beat rhythms signifying Burnham Wood come to Dunsinane and Macbeth’s demise does movement come to complement meaning rather than obscuring it.
Macbeth runs at the Young Vic Theatre to Jan 23, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate Dec 2015