‘It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury’ may be one of the best known quotes from ‘Macbeth’, but Eve Best’s production arrestingly begins in silence. The company stands before us holding drums, frozen in a tableau, before launching into a bellicose volley of beats.
This opening sets the tone for a vigorous staging of ‘Macbeth’ that ambushes you with intense moments of stillness. Samantha Spiro as Lady Macbeth and Joseph Millson as Macbeth give a rousing, frenetic portrait of a power-couple with a compulsion for bloodshed. But Spiro in particular can go from harridan-mode to haunted desperation, so that the audience suddenly become eavesdroppers on her most torturous thoughts.
This is a ‘Macbeth’ that is also played, counterintuitively, but successfully, for laughs. It’s the directing debut of actor Eve Best, whose appearance as the Duchess of Malfi last year at the Old Vic was just the latest to mark her out as one of our most formidable actresses. Her tackling of one of Shakespeare’s most tricky plays is shot through with both the dignified strength and intelligent humour that has distinguished her best performances. But it also, unsurprisingly, shows her as an actors’ director – the cast are clearly having a ball.
Best cleverly uses the tricky device of the witches to make Macbeth and Banquo (clearly high on something) deal with their message as if it is a hallucination. Millson’s constant disbelief at what he is doing is a source of much of the production’s humour. But because he performs with such conviction, cumulatively it also packs a horrific punch – not least when he makes grasp for his wife’s throat.
The brilliance of Spiro’s performances lies in her anguish as she realises that her husband is even more suggestible than she anticipates, shown most clearly in her horror when he reveals he has killed Duncan’s guards. And there are many other elements to savour here. Bette Bourne’s glorious Drunken Porter and Philip Cumbus’s amusingly foppish Malcolm all contributes to one of the warmest productions of ‘Macbeth’ you’ll ever see, but one which still strikes the requisite chill to the heart.
By Rachel Halliburton