Theatre Review: Macbeth

Excerpted from Sunday Morning Herald, 9 November 2013
By Peter Craven
Thanks, Renie

'Macbeth' is a nightmare of a play, this dark and bloody depiction of marriage as the pathway to murder. It is a source of superstition in the theatre.

But this play, which contains some of Shakespeare's very greatest poetry, is done extremely well in this Manchester Festival production with Kenneth Branagh, a superb Macbeth, bare in manner and brilliant through every twist and turn.

Alex Kingston matches him at every point as a Lady Macbeth who bubbles with desire only to fall into the starkest pit of madness where snakes rustle.

Co-directed by Branagh and Rob Ashford, the production takes place in a deconsecrated church. The nave has become a long mud pit in which the Scottish thanes fight, and the mire of the earth seems the natural medium for the ash-faced witches.

It's a shadowed and rapid 'Macbeth' with lightning transitions from scene to scene performed in one headlong stretch. Branagh projects his Macbeth as if the part had never been played before. He has an almost innocent mildness to begin with, and yet when the scorpions take hold of his mind it's as if he is lost in a labyrinth of destiny only to bark out orders with an electric authority that suggests he was always meant to kill his way to greatness.

He doesn't act like Olivier or Gielgud, Scofield or Burton, but he has their technical mastery.

Branagh addresses Banquo's murderers with the clipped authority of Henry V. His "out, out brief candle" almost drowns in a gulf of grief as he gazes into the lost beauty of oblivion.

Kingston is an equally bold Lady Macbeth, opulent and excitable, sometimes taking a running leap at these images of battlements and evil spirits and slaughtered children, as if they were hurdles she could jump over. It is a fine, ferocious performance, full of the ripeness of a womanhood that has poisoned itself.

The acting in this production is classical, urgent, never afraid to be big. The veteran John Shrapnel is a characterful Duncan and Ray Fearon, a black Macduff, is dashing and full of fire. But this is Branagh's 'Macbeth', crystal clear in its diction and power of its conception.

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