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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Gielgud Theatre

By Clive Hirschhorn

  Patrick Stewart and Kate Fleetwood/Ph: Manuel Harlan

In a lifetime of enduring more productions of Macbeth than almost any other Shakespeare play (with the possible exception of Hamlet), not once - until now - have I seen a truly great actor giving the kind of performance that will forever indelibly link his name with the central role the way Gielgud is linked to Hamlet, Olivier to Richard III and Henry V, Brando to Mark Anthony, and Paul Robeson to Othello.

There is something about the Scottish play that renders high-octane actors such as Peter O'Toole, Alec Guiness, Anthony Hopkins, and Ben Kingsley (to name a mere handful) almost invisible.

Hallelujah, therefore, that this particular mould of mediocrity has finally been broken by Patrick Stewart whose Macbeth, under Rupert Goold's guidance, is far and away the finest, most compelling I have ever seen, and the one by which future actors in the part will surely be measured. Stewart's progression from a bemused soldier caught short by the witch's predictions of greatness, to his initial hesitancy, vaulting ambition, ruthless killing spree and final overthrow is a mesmeric journey no serious theatregoer will want to miss.

Spurred on by Kate Fleetwood's equally compelling, unashamedly sexy Lady Macbeth, this once noble warrior turned serial killer excavates more facets and nuances than I'd have thought possible, offering, in the end, the most rounded, complex and complete picture of a brutal man and his demons you're ever likely to see in a single lifetime.

If Stewart and Fleetwood conjure up the unhospitable Macbeths to horrifying perfection,director Goold's inventive reasessment of this familiar war-horse provides the refreshingly original framework by which this production will be defined for years to come.

Right from the beginning you know you're in for an evening of hair-raising surprises. The three nurses attending the sergeant in a field hospital turn out to be the three witches - their protective face-masks doubling as beards. There is no blasted heath in sight. The action takes place in some subterranean kitchen approached by an industrial lift from which - among others - the ghost of Banquo (Martin Turner) , enters and promptly closes the first half with a Grand Guignol appeaerance that freezes the blood, In another of Goold's many directorial innovations, the second half begins just before Banquo's entrance, but this time there is no physical manifestation of the ghost. The scene is replayed from the point of view of the dinner guests only.

Other startling touches include the longest pause I have ever seen on a stage as Macduff (Michael Feast) digests the news that his wife and all his pretty ones have been slaughtered, Banquo's assassination on a train, the merciless torture of Ross (Tim Treloar), and the porter (Oliver Birch) urinating into a kitchen sink, one of whose faucets gushes blood when Lady Macbeth tries to wash the evidence of her evil from her hands.

The only unnecessary touch in Goold's impressive make-over are images of Stalinist Russia projected onto the walls of the kitchen in which the play is set, and which leads you to believe the Macbeths are Soviets rather than Scottish. A


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