Macbeth (REVIEW): James McAvoy and Claire Foy Star In Shakespeare's Bloodiest Play

Johan Persson

Don't mention The Scottish Play.

The theatrical superstition to never utter Shakespeare's Macbeth inside a theatre has been cast aside by director Jamie Lloyd in a bleak dystopia starring James McAvoy (Atonement, X-Men: First Class) and Claire Foy (Going Postal, Ding Dong The Wicked) at Trafalgar Studios.

Following the original text, the famous tale of murderous ambition has been transported to a future, in which our fears of global disaster have all come to fruition. Grimy faces, sweat-stained clothes, unwashed hair and flickering light bulbs, a dirty world where a fracturing Scotland clings to tribal leaders in chaotic anarchy.

We are given a Macbeth that looks as though it has been lifted from newspaper coverage of war-torn Syria; the Free Syrian Army, wearing civilian clothing, waving guns against a backdrop of shattered buildings.

According to the production's Associate Director, Edward Stambollouian, the walls of the rehearsal rooms were lined with photos of rebel fighters in the Congo, scenes of civic unrest and derelict Scottish buildings.

Machete aloft and screaming, McAvoy makes his entrance, making a mock swipe at a front row audience member. Macbeth: the adrenaline-charged soldier, victorious in battle, a young warrior at the top of his game.

James McAvoy (Macbeth) in Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

Rather than a murdering dictator, Shakespeare intended Macbeth to be a man with a conscience, albeit a tortured one. With camaraderie, energy and banter delivered in his own Scottish lilt, McAvoy shows the human side of Macbeth: his struggle between ambition, moral apprehension and, most likely, severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

Ignoring the reality of Macbeth's heinous crimes for a moment, McAvoy is an inspiring and likeable leader, perhaps to a fault. But if we saw nothing but evil in his performance, could we empathise with a character we hate?

They say behind every successful man is a woman, in Macbeth's case, it is a scheming and murderous one. Foy shows the earnest ambition of Lady Macbeth, without resorting to blunt aggression. An accomplished performance, but one that would have benefited with more contrast between beguiling manipulator and stricken wife, married to a man on the edge of insanity.

James McAvoy (Macbeth) & Claire Foy (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

Lloyd gives us a bloody Macbeth, literally. McAvoy and Foy show their hands, arms and clothes stained with the blood of their victims. As Banquo's ghost (Forbes Masson) torments Macbeth, we are taken one step further; blood pours from the ceiling in a thick slew, splattering the King's dinner guests, and some unfortunate audience members - participatory theatre at its most raw.

The most disturbing violence in Lloyd's Macbeth is the murder of Lady Macduff (Allison McKenzie) and her young son (Stuart Campbell). We are spared nothing as the horrifying reality of war is laid bare on stage.

James McAvoy (Macbeth) & Kevin Guthrie (Lennox) in Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

Lloyd has pulled out all the stops to visually offer more than a simple staging of Shakespeare's text, but are mud-stained trench coats and gasmask-wearing witches enough to contribute to the legacy of the bard's most bloody play?

It is easy to underestimate the power of props and costume. Every opportunity is taken to transfix and transport us from 16th Century Scotland to a new story - Lloyd tethers himself to the text in words only, the rest is unique creation.

Macbeth is running at Trafalgar Studios, London, 9 February - 27 April 2013.

Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

‘Leaving Planet Earth' And ‘Long Distance Affair', Edinburgh Festival

HuffPost UK Theatre Reviews