If ever there was a play to convert the unconvinced of the excitement of Shakespeare, this is it. From witches in gas masks and clown faced assassins, to axe wielding murderers and blood soaked ghosts, this is not a production that will lead to boredom. Trafalgar Studios, where this play is currently showing, have transformed the whole theatre to make room for James Lloyd’s innovative productions, one of which is Macbeth.
James Lloyd’s Macbeth is frenetic and visceral from the very start. Set in a near future, even post-apocalyptic Scotland, the witches emerge from the dark in their gas masks, holding eerie blue lights to their faces and emitting masses of smoke which fills the theatre for the whole performance. Enter Macbeth: skidding dramatically onto stage on his knees, he wields an axe and a machete, banging them on the floor. He has indeed arrived.
As quite a young Macbeth (McAvoy is 33), this energy is kept up for the whole performance; he is constantly moving. A brilliantly manic and terrifying performance, McAvoy jumps up on tables to chase Banquo’s ghost, knocking chairs flying. But his shouting and cackling confidence is perfectly balanced with the total silence that builds as he creeps up to, and finally murders, MacDuff’s son. Even his final introspective soliloquy “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” is marked by him rocking backwards, balancing his chair on its two back legs. His performance is so powerful that you cannot help but be afraid.
There is always an edge of madness to this play and, with the audience claustrophobically hemming the actors in from two sides of the stage, it is easy to see why. The set itself is minimalistic, dark and often empty save a table or two, with water sporadically spurting from rusty pipes and a toilet placed centre stage for McAvoy to retch into prior to the murder of the king. A large light swings from the ceiling, flashing menacingly at every scene change whilst a klaxon rings. Dark and prison-like, you cannot help feeling trapped in the theatre. And if that wasn’t powerful enough, Lady Macbeth’s wailings of insanity reverberate through the performance. If there is anything this play certainly isn’t, it’s quiet.
This then is the success of the play; it is a brutal and very loud production that will hopefully create a whole new flock of Shakespeare fans. Lloyd’s Macbeth is anything but half-hearted in its chosen direction; rather it dives in head first to create an intense, overwrought experience that is compelling to the end, even if you aren’t always quite sure what is going on.