Having never studied, seen or even read Macbeth, I had no idea what to expect from the inaugural performance at the Trafalgar Studios. The performance, directed by Jamie Lloyd and starring James McAvoy and Claire Foy, was surprising, captivating and powerful on all levels.
Set in a modern, dystopian Scotland, Lloyd’s Macbeth presented the psychology of Shakespeare’s text as it applies to contemporary events and social conscience. Bare metal, fluorescent lights and ragged clothing replaced the traditional Elizabethan garb, creating a much more dark and raw atmosphere. In addition to this the audience was literally brought closer to the action, with a third of the seats put on the opposite side to the main seating area, effectively on the stage. I was lucky enough to be seated in the front row of the onstage seating, and this really did make me feel more involved in the performance. The actors also helped this feeling through careful inclusion of both sides of the audience, as well as more direct monologuing to choice audience members (James McAvoy held my gaze for a good 30 seconds of monologue!) The space was well used, with ladders, tables and chairs providing ample opportunity for different levels in an otherwise very flat set. The lighting added to this, with blackouts, side spotlights and hand held lamps creating another dimension to the already dramatic set, which provided the perfect background for the modern interpretation of the Scottish play.
The drama was extremely well directed, and there was a great sense that all the actors very much understood the meaning behind the words – even if sometimes this was not overly clear to the audience; the strength of the scottish accents made some of the dialogue hard to follow. However, overall the acting was of an incredibly high standard with a wealth of stand out performances. Jamie Ballard portrayed Macduff’s grief on hearing of his wife and children’s death with a heart-wrenching truthfulness, and was deeply moving as Macbeth’s crazed adversary in the final battle scenes. Claire Foy made a beautiful yet damaged Lady Macbeth. She portrayed the character’s duplicity with a great skill, and in particular Foy’s interpretation of Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking was disturbed and almost primal. Her gut-wrenching scream was one of the most terrible sounds I have heard, and it visibly moved the audience. Finally, James McAvoy’s Macbeth was a hugely powerful, considered and physical character. It was clear that McAvoy fully understood the psyche of his character, and he seemed to fit perfectly into the modern war-torn setting created by Lloyd. I think the best testament I can give to his acting skill is that, when approaching our seats during a monologue, McAvoy’s roar of anger sent my mum shooting a foot into the air (much to our embarrassment, and the audience’s amusement!) What struck me most about all of the performances was their physicality – the actors were constantly sliding, climbing, fighting and running across the stage, which added to the savagery of the play. It was also impossible to ignore the gore of this interpretation of Macbeth. McAvoy and Foy’s arms covered in blood up to the elbows, the ghost of Banquo’s face drenched in blood, a shower of blood over Macbeth as he is killed, Macduff’s presentation of Macbeth’s severed head dripping with blood… It was really quite a lot, but I have to say it never felt gratuitous. Savage and terrifying yes, but not just for the sake of it. The gory aspect of the play was justified by the tragic nature of the text, and I think along with that Lloyd’s contextualisation of the play in the near future allowed for the more visual aspects of the play to be brought out, than perhaps in a more traditional interpretation.
(The stage at the interval)
Overall I think Macbeth was a truly thrilling and visceral play, and although it is unfortunately sold out, I would really recommend seeing a play at the Trafalgar Studios. Jamie Lloyd is currently directing a series of plays in his ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ project, and it would be very interesting to see his direction of other plays as I think it is primarily his choice of set, concept and direction that made Macbeth stand out from other Shakespeare productions (as well as James McAvoy’s lovely face, of course.)
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