Something wicked this way comes – it’s Shakespeare’s spookiest play, in an RSC production which really is dead good. With its witches, macabre slayings and existential despair, ‘Macbeth’ suits the film noir makeover of director Polly Findlay’s thrilling take. Thirsty ghosts gather in the shadows and dribble blood, as murderous power couple the Macbeths – hench Christopher Eccleston and charismatic Niamh Cusack – off pretty much everyone in sight to secure the crown of Scotland.
Cusack is a particular treat as the hostess from hell. She plays Lady Macbeth like the Oscars of homicide, going from murder to madness in speech after glittering speech, accessorised by floor-length green silk, midnight lace, gold spangles and killer heels. Eccleston’s Macbeth is made from rougher stuff – a bluff northern killing tool who turns on his snobbish master. They have good chemistry and everything gets a little bit less interesting after her final, hand-scrubbing exit.
But this is more than a star-powered show with an inspired wardrobe department. Interestingly, it uses a weird, obscure scene in the middle of the play – where the Macbeths’ porter, Seyton (geddit?) takes a really long time to answer the door – as a light conceptual framework for the whole shebang. All the action is staged inside a kind of infernal waiting room, with Seyton sitting next to the water-cooler, chalking up the deaths on the wall (it’s a big wall). As Macbeth careens towards ‘the last syllable of recorded time’, a huge clock literally counts down his seconds, hitting zero at the precise moment he comes to a sticky end.
This is a typically lucid RSC production which is easy to understand and enjoy. But there’s plenty to think about. Shakespeare’s play is haunted by dead and missing children, including a baby the Macbeths had and no longer have, and the three children of Macbeth’s enemy, Macduff, who are slaughtered painfully along the way. With shades of ‘Don’t Look Now’, Findlay casts the witches who lure Macbeth to destruction as a frightful trio of little girls in bright red dresses (superb young actors, all three). His cruelty looks like the revenge of the fruitless on the fruitful, with Macduff a portly baby-bjorn-toting civil servant, and Macbeth a trained killer, planking in black leather armour. When they go head to head, it’s like Centrist Dad versus Putin. Which means the final outcome does feel a tad implausible. However, realism is hardly the keynote here. The flashes of horror-flick humour bring lightness to the blackest of fables – just the ticket for those long dark nights…