War’s effects hammered home by James McAvoy in chilling Macbeth

MACBETH by Shakespeare, , Writer: William Shakespeare, Director: Jamie Lloyd, Trafa

MACBETH by Shakespeare, , Writer: William Shakespeare, Director: Jamie Lloyd, Trafalgar Studios, London, UK, 2013,, Credit: Johan Persson - www.perssonphotography.com / - Credit: Archant


Trafalgar Studios


At the ‘transformed’ Trafalgar Studios, thrusting young director Jamie Lloyd has created a visceral, blood-spattered – thoroughly Scottish Macbeth, that foregrounds the psychological effects of war and violence.

Set in a dystopian future Scotland that’s reverted to the primitive post climate change disaster, its landscape is concrete bunkers, welders’ arc-lights and boiler-suited, gas-masked witches – in their parkas and DM’s everyone looks like they’ve been dragged through a hedge or is about to solder your chassis.

James McAvoy’s thane is an axe-wielding killing machine, mentally unstable with PTSD, harrowed, it’s suggested by the recent loss of a baby, there are only vestiges of the man he once was.

Stomping around in jeans and torn jersey, and making heavy weather of the Scottish accent, Claire Foy is a febrile Lady Macbeth, already on the edge of breakdown. Though not entirely convincing in earlier scenes, she is later moving as a disturbed, distressed sleepwalker.

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As the duo’s killing spree unfolds, McAvoy, a dangerous, imposing presence, offers a compelling study of the paranoid, warped logic of an increasingly deranged dictator.

He descends from stuttering his own name – and throwing up before Duncan’s murder – to coldly executing Macduff’s young son. Later, he sits on a chair, machete in lap, meditating chillingly on life’s transience. His death at the hands of Jamie Ballard’s woad-smeared Macduff is effectively suicide.

There’s a current fashion to pace Shakespeare briskly but Lloyd slows down each line so its meaning rings clear. Though this makes for almost three-hour’s traffic, it pays dividends in clarifying his themes of power, and war’s warping effects on the mind, and perhaps in opening the text to young audiences less familiar with it.

With audience members sitting on stage and the rest peering down from the Trafalgar’s vertiginous seating, the traverse staging isn’t always successful – it’s frustrating to have actors with their back to you.

But Lloyd excitingly uses the dynamic to spring actors from below stage trapdoors and throw open the back door to allow Birnan Wood to come to Dunsinane.

Until April 27.

Bridget Galton