Should I start at the beginning or the end? The very good or the not so good? Any way you look at it, Jamie Lloyd’s production of Macbeth at the Trafalgar studios (or Trafalgar Transformed as it’s being rebranded) is a play of two halves: until the interval, I was happy to declare it one of the best productions in recent memory. After the interval, it lost momentum and struggled to regain focus.
Some problems in the second half are due to long absences of the protagonist: his name is above the title and his performance shows he deserves it. James McAvoy accommodates the soldier, the husband, the friend and the killer with surprising ease. The words dance out of his mouth fresh and unexpected. His Macbeth is clear eyed about moral consequences though unapologetic about his choices. Apparitions, ghosts and bloody daggers hang around him as much as in him. He fights them as much as he welcomes them. It’s a fearless commanding performance of light and shade, and it fuels the production.
Claire Foy as Lady Macbeth matches his drive and strength. Their first physical contact is of birds beaking each other. Their scene in Act III is full of danger: he can snap her in two, she can throw him in hell. Their every moment together is of tenderness and death.
The other stand out performance is of Forbes Masson as Banquo: genuine and engaging, his bond with Macbeth is so palpable and strong, his fate becomes a hellish fire eating Macbeth alive.
The set, a single strip of industrial wasteland, exposed wires and – often – bodily fluids, works well as a world that, if not poor, doesn’t value material wealth. Survival and brutal strength rule over grace and beauty. Gas masks bring memories of clean air and paradise lost, animal masks predict a place without a human face.
This explosive dangerous world loses much of its vitality in the second half. With the scene between Macduff and Malcolm, it almost grinds to a halt. Jamie Ballard’s Macduff doesn’t hold the interest, as the plot gets tied to his character, the momentum is lost. There is a nice theatrical device where (SPOILER) the back of the stage opens directly to the street and the soldiers’ enter – if you are sitting on that side, bring woolly jumpers, it can get very cold (END OF SPOILERS), but other scenes blend awkwardly and need more definition.
As it is, the production has much to offer, not least stellar performances and an intriguing visceral interpretation of the play. If it finds its feet in the second half, it might become truly exceptional.
One last observation, here at the end, as it contains MAJOR SPOILERS: in the second meeting with the Witches, the three apparitions are played by Macbeth (James McAvoy) as he is possessed by their spirits. Is that an unusual staging of the scene? [END OF SPOILERS]
Curtain call: unusually for a production with an undisputed star, not only in name but also stage presence, James McAvoy didn’t take an individual curtain call. I hope they will reconsider, as he clearly deserves it.
For a second opinion, read Revstan’s thoughts on the production.