Sunday, 17 February 2013

Macbeth - Trafalgar Studios - Saturday 16 February ****

Director Jamie Lloyd’s high-concept Macbeth is set in the not too distant future in a dystopian independent Scotland where the oil has run out, the economy is in tatters, and the population is in turmoil (are you listening Alex Salmond?).

Led by the pride of Port Glasgow, James McAvoy, as the ultimate social climber and Claire Foy as his equally driven Lady, virtually all of the cast were born north of Hadrian’s Wall and they all do the accent.  I am, of course, well accustomed to a Scottish tongue as Mrs Front Row Dress was born on the banks of the Clyde. I knew my talent to untangle a highland burr would come in useful one day, but if the closest you’ve ever been to Sauchiehall Street is dunking a petticoat tail into your skinny cappuccino, you may want to plough through a couple of episodes of Monarch of the Glen before parting with your hard-earned cash.

I presume Soutra Gilmlour’s set is being used on Sundays to film SAW VIII – Kill Your Friends, all distressed metal panels, doors & grills with water dripping from overhead. Meanwhile the cast appear to have been clothed by the wardrobe department from Mad Mac –  The Woad Warrior (Max's Scottish cousin).

In a volley of crash, bangs, wallops and lighting flashes, McAvoy’s Macbeth takes the gas-mask wearing Riot Grrrl witches at their word as they confirm he is bound for greater things, only his friend Banquo, a beautifully calm centred Forbes Masson, strikes a note of caution. Once Claire Foy’s Lady Macbeth arrives on the scene full of angry nervous energy, scheming to ensure her greatness by matrimonial association, things take a turn for the worse as the Macbeths’ single minded pursuit of the prize engulfs them to the exclusion of all else.

Like a mid-21st century Fred and Rose West, their sense of morality disappears, according to the programme notes his due to battleground induced post traumatic stress, hers from post natal depression following a miscarriage. Achievements realised, paranoia descends on both, trusting no-one and seeing all as the enemy. When an army led by the slaughtered king’s son Malcolm and former ally Macduff amasses, Macbeth is initially incredulous and then stoic in the face of overwhelming odds. In an utterly fantastic coup de theatre, the back wall of the stage opens onto the streets outside, sirens blaring in the West End, as troops, woad faces and all, clamber in seeking Macbeth.

In his final confrontation with Macduff, McAvoy’s king is finally, unreservedly, repentant. His “Lead on Macduff” is an apology as much as a suicidal request, the enormity of the deeds he has committed in his  ascent to the throne finally resting upon his long forgotten conscience and, in what I assume to be a directorial homage to Carrie, blood pours from above soaking the isolated monarch.

McAvoy, makes a fine unpredictable warrior king, a man who other men would follow and he manages to look buff and sexy even in grey long johns, but it is Jamie Ballard’s Macduff that sneaks up in act two to steal the acting honours. His multi-layered characterisation is captivating, even when a girl on the front row of the stage seats decides that one of his most emotional scenes is an ideal time to administer eye drops. He turns utter desolation into steely resolve and transforms revenge into something altogether more honourable.

Jamie Lloyd’s avowed intent was to make Macbeth relevant and this he has achieved in spades, drawing upon the riots of two summers ago, the battle for an independent Scotland and the greater problems of global climate change. He has also created an immensely accessible Macbeth, messy, bloody, violent and exciting, one for the Call of Duty generation. Judging from the accents in the bar he has already won over a vast cross section of London’s ex-pat Celtic community, maybe a transfer north should be on the cards.

Booking until 27 April 2013, Mad Mac - The Woad Warrior - Macbeth

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