Director Rupert Goold’s vision and actor Patrick Stewart’s stunningly vivid acting combined to make Goold’s recent arctic production of The Tempest for the RSC one of the most memorable stagings of the play seen for many years. Goold’s latest and equally inventive production is Macbeth at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, and it happily reunites the director with Stewart. This production is actually even more brilliant and memorable than The Tempest, Stewart on blisteringly good form as Macbeth, and everybody present in the small dark room intensely transported to the brutal Court of Macbeth. It seems that Goold is a director who is able to perfectly match his innovative ideas with our national playwright’s drama, crucially without the pairing seeming in any way forced (or ‘directors’ theatre’, if used in the pejorative sense). Everything seen onstage is justified by Shakespeare’s words (comprehensibly delivered by all the company). Goold simply illuminates and illustrates ideas with his concept, never detracting from the play.
We are taken inside the white tiled bunker of an autocratic leader, a Soviet style dictator (uniforms, goose-stepping and all), with echoes of the drab Russia of Stalin alongside the seductive privilege of power. In the thrilling (but horrendous) opening scene of this bloody, violent and gripping production, nurses tend to a wounded soldier, but the women are soon revealed as the weird sisters, they administer gas to the man, putting him into a grimace of absolute agony and then a swift demise. These witches are the angels of death in our play, seemingly running a mortuary for the victims of the regime, and also turning up in the Macbeths’ household, chopping up meat as highly unsettling domestic servants. The malevolent, but low key presence of the witches throughout much of the play is very effective indeed, they can be seen as sirens of evil urging Macbeth on with their supernatural powers (belief in witchcraft being widespread in Shakespeare’s time).
Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth could give classes on cold ambition and determination, her seductive hostess turning into a calculated murderer without a second thought. But Macbeth is initially torn over the murder of his King and paralysed with guilt immediately after it, but ambition dives him on an inexorable path to power and glory. This is especially apt in the Soviet setting, with everyone in thrall to their dear leader; what other choice but bloody murder was there to get ahead? Stewart so brilliant embodies a huge range emotion in his performance, from stumbling and unsure in thought, to absolutely determined but wracked with paranoid anxiety, it truly is a masterclass.
The whole cast give fine performances, but Christopher Patrick Nolan’s searching Irish porter and Michael Feast’s haunted and ultimately scary Macduff are particularly worthy of mention. As for the staging, the darkness and inventiveness cannot be matched in any recent Shakespeare production, Goold give us shadowy nooks, political assassinations on a crowded train, blood running from the kitchen tap and a fascinating double view of Macbeth’s vision of Banquo at the feast (firstly with a bloody Banquo present, the second time from the point of view of the guest, without the ghost). His pairing with acting talent like Stewart’s clearly also bears much fruit, and I certainly hope they work together again soon.
Despite having seen the play many times, I was absolutely gripped by the action not just the acting, the tension and atmosphere sometimes putting the whole audience palpably on edge. It is also seems pretty horrific as a production (and the play certainly is), but Goold leaves some of the terror up to our imagination, giving us the power to see the awful things happening just around the corner. A fascinating and brilliant production, which hopefully will be seen in London after it’s sell out Chichester run.