‘Macbeth’ review

Theatre, Shakespeare
2 out of 5 stars
3 out of 5 stars
(5user reviews)
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Rory Kinnear as Macbeth
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Parth Thakerar as Malcolm and Patrick O'Kane as Macduff
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Nadia Albina as Gentlewoman, Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth and Michael Balogun as Doctor
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Kevin Harvey as Banquo
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Kevin Harvey as Banquo
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth and Rory Kinnear as Macbeth
 (© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
© Brinkhoff-Moegenburg Rory Kinnear as Macbeth

Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff star in a messy, incoherent take on the Scottish Play

The National Theatre has just netted a stupendous 22 Olivier nominations, a massive haul that should by rights halt the persistent low-level mutterings about Rufus Norris’s leadership. And yet, despite glorious exceptions like ‘Follies’ – responsible for ten of those nominations – it’s hard to deny that Norris has consistently made a real meal out of the NT’s biggest house, the Olivier, which has become increasingly synonymous with ambitious flops like ‘Salome’ and ‘Common’.

And where his predecessor Nicholas Hytner always had his brilliant, rigorous Olivier-set Shakespeare productions to fall back on, the Bard isn’t so much Norris’s bag, something made abundantly clear by his garbled take on ‘Macbeth’.

We are in a sort of vaguely post-apocalyptic Scotland (not that there’s anything particularly Scottish about it). It looks quite cool in a ‘Mad Max’ sort of way. But after years of smart, revelatory excavations of Shakespeare’s works by Hytner (plus decent recent stabs from Polly Findlay and Simon Godwin), it feels like a big problem that the setup here is essentially meaningless – signifying nothing.

Visual panache is Norris’s strong suit, and he might have literally styled this all out. But the spectacle only goes so far – it feels reminiscent of his ‘Everyman’, but more dour, with the only real set-piece of note the scene in which Rory Kinnear’s murderously ambitious nobleman Macbeth returning to confront prophetic witches the Weird Sisters, only to be confronted by a freaky army of doll-like spirits.

Most fatally, talented leads Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff just seem to be in the wrong show. Kinnear in particular is a brilliant Shakespearean whose Hamlet and Iago burned up this stage. But he’s a naturalistic actor. Here he seems to interpret the murderous Scottish lord as a dithering bureaucrat who develops a Stalin-like paranoia after Duff’s Lady Macbeth persuades him to off King Duncan and claim the Scottish throne. Which is a really interesting interpretation, but difficult to square with the fact that we’re also presumably supposed to see him as some sort of blood-soaked dystopian warlord. Likewise Duff’s Lady M starts the show warm and supportive, with her later derangement less to do with personal guilt, more horror at her husband’s spiralling paranoia. Again, a fine idea for a different production – perhaps one, say, set in an office – but it seems positively bizarre when everyone’s dressed up like something out of ‘The Warriors’.

Toss in some baffling cuts to the text that don’t seem to serve much purpose beyond wrestling the running time down a bit and you’re stuck with a big, blasted mess of a show. Of course, we’re still talking about the National Theatre, and there’s a basic level of competence that’s always going to be achieved by a good cast tackling a great play on a reasonable budget. It’s not even the worst show to play at the Olivier in the last year (hello, ‘Salome’). But it is, almost certainly, the worst Shakespeare production at the NT for at least a decade. Roll on that return for ‘Follies’, eh?

By: Andrzej Lukowski


Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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3 people listening

This is Macbeth reimagined as Mad Mac. The set, costumes and music fight to overwhelm Shakespeare's most dramatic play, but thanks to strong lead performances Macbeth just about wins through. 

I admire Rufus Norris' audacity here, he makes Macbeth into a gory, post apocalyptic, horror show - with zombies. He doesn't quite pull it off and it a difficult watch at times, but it is Macbeth as you will never see it again. Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear are both good, despite all the eccentric distractions going on around them. 

This is not a Macbeth that I would ever have envisioned, and it is not one of my favourite interpretations, however it is one that I will remember and I am pleased not to have missed it.


This production has all the potential to be a great show, Rory Kinnear and Anne Marie Duff in the title roles, NT artistic director Rufus Norris directing the piece and of course Shakespeare, enough said. Not so it seems, the play was clunky and slow and never delivered the fiery pace that it is known for. I wanted to see each scene slide into the other, but instead there were great pauses and I never felt the urgency that time was of the essence. 

It seems that many of the characters were underdeveloped and not given their time to shine, especially the witches who no sooner had they come on than they were off again. Kinnear and Duff offered the best they could, and for seasoned NT actors as well as Kinnear having a great repertoire of Shakespeare, most noticeably playing Iago in Othello in 2013, Kinnear displays one hell of a nervous twitch after killing Duncan,  these moments were few and far between.

The stage was dominated by a wide ramp that swung back and forth, and I was pleased to notice I wasn't the only one who felt the production was reminiscent of Norris's previous show, Everyman. The set offered a dystopian land, that was so far from where I imagined Macbeth to be I was repelled and didn't care for it in equal measure,. Even when he became king, he sheltered in a bunker, reminding me of something you might see in the Hitler war film, Downfall. There was nothing of the grandeur the play possesses, lines being cut to an inch of their lives and costumes that seemed both incredibly everyday matched with specific design that when they were put together it just looked odd.

Apart from the actors mentioned, Penny Layden and Patrick O'Kane commanded energies that were engaging and thoughtful, but perhaps for the time being Shakespeare should be left to 'The Globe' down the road.


A curious production. Macbeth and wife seem to live in a concrete outhouse. The play starts with the well known witches rant, but instead of leaving the stage, the witches then hang about - sometimes climbing poles, sometimes shrieking their lungs out. Much of the action seems to involve running around the large Olivier space, there is also a lot of hanging about on the large bridge structure which is being constantly moved across the stage. I didn't think there was a lot of clarity, and much of the dialogue was lost to me.
The costumes were original, most of the cast look like they had dressed up for a down-market Scottish night out.
I regret to say I found it all a serious mess, tedious & irritating. 

Good, but not yet truly great. Performances of course were first class but I am not sure if the setting and context felt truly explored. As below, I think this will get 4 and 5 star reviews but to be honest I was expecting greatness from the get go with this cast and director. Perhaps that will settle as the show consolidates. I will try to get to SUA for the RSC Macbeth and will be fascinated to compare productions. Something tells me that for a change it may be the RSC who takes it to the next level, but who knows? With Kinnear and Duff, the fairy dust may burst forth on Press Night and certainly worth a revisit either live or at the cinema when NT Live is broadcast.

Early preview but the approach is fascinating. Very post apocalyptic and blasted. Languid, intense, careful and brooding with Kinnear already getting to the heart of the lead but Duff maybe not *quite* there. Fantastic casting and you know the performances will be superb by opening night when you are in such safe hands. I am sure this will tighten up but already it has the bones of a fascinating and very distinctive production. Not as visceral as the terrific McAvoy/Foy outing or the Slinger thriller but deep, dark and almost clinging and cloying. Very interesting use of the witches! Sold out of course but as the production will undoubtedly improve before Press Night, I suspect this will be very well liked by critics. A four star, rather than five star production maybe. The RSC is going to really have to pull out something very special to match this. Rather than the usual straight up pacey versions which thrill in the moment but don't stay with you, this one creeps up on you and leaves you thinking well after the curtain has gone down. 

Recommended but probably not a classic production of the play likely to be discussed years down the line.