The Tragedy of Macbeth: Almeida Theatre

The Tragedy of Macbeth at The Almeida Theatre Islington

The Tragedy of Macbeth. James McArdle and Saoirse Ronan. - Credit: Marc Brenner

Famously Shakespeare's shortest play, the recent tendency has been to further compress Macbeth so it plays like a thriller.

But Yael Farber's psychologically acute reading - underscored by mournful cello - slows the pace to illuminate every searing emotion and the unravelling of the ambitious Macbeth's marriage.

The elegiac atmosphere makes the opening scenes feel oddly stilted and underpowered, yet once this tragedy hits its groove, its bloody charm is wound up nicely. With reassigned lines, Saoirse Ronan's fierce, febrile Lady M is much more a 'partner in greatness' to the grisly business at hand, and it is witnessing Lady Macduff's protracted, brutal murder that tips her into madness.

The Tragedy of Macbeth at The Almeida Theatre Islington. Maureen Hibbert, Diane Fletcher, Valerie Lilley. 

The Tragedy of Macbeth at The Almeida Theatre Islington. Maureen Hibbert, Diane Fletcher, Valerie Lilley. - Credit: Marc Brenner

Ultimately it's the separate horrors playing in both their heads that divides this passionate pairing. James McArdle's beefy, kilted Thane possesses a sardonic humour that punctuates the the bloodletting, yet is wracked with anguish and volcanic fury in the later scenes.

Farber dispenses with hubble bubble spells and the Porter's penis jokes to cast an eerie aesthetic over this non-specific modern military state where the Macbeths address the gathered masses from a dais, and the Weird Sisters are dark-suited Greek-style Fates - less supernaturally manipulating the doings of men, than dolefully resigned to their destructive power struggles.

Macbeth at The Almeida Islington starring Saoirse Ronan as Lady Macbeth

The Tragedy of Macbeth. Saoirse Ronan and James McArdle. - Credit: Marc Brenner

Beautiful picture-making on Soutra Gilmour's pared back set - a backlit dance, a cauldron of fire, a dripping tap that floods the stage - gives way to visceral physical grappling as guns are cast aside to fight skin to skin - Emun Elliot's Macduff matching the intensity of Macbeth's pain and fury blow for blow.

In a production which brings gender into sharp focus, their 'destiny' is linked to their masculinity. The line of kings and bringing forth 'men children only' has rarely felt so patriarchal. An upturned wheelbarrow of boots signifies the thirst for settling disputes and betrayals violently, and Banquo's son Fleance holds his rifle aloft as the cycle begins again. 4/5 Stars.

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