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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Park Avenue Armory


  Kenneth Branagh/ Ph: Stephanie Berger

Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford’s military-driven, highly physical staging of Macbeth, in which Branagh plays the title character, completes a trilogy of Macbeth revivals over the past year that also included Alan Cumming’s one-man, insane asylum version on the play and an embarrassing production at Lincoln Center with a mumbling Ethan Hawke. Let’s also not forget the long-running Sleep No More, a wordless, nonlinear, sensory-based interpretation of the play staged around an immense warehouse in Chelsea.

Even in spite of all this Macbeth, as well as the unusually large number of Shakespeare productions during the past season (including the Globe Theatre’s celebrated run of Richard III and Twelfth Night on Broadway), Branagh’s Macbeth has been heavily anticipated. It originated a year ago in Manchester, England, in a small church space. For New York, it has been revamped to suit the massive Park Avenue Armory.

Upon entering, audience members are divided into Scottish clans and given wristbands to reflect their clans. They are then marched in an orderly fashion through what appears to be a grassy wilderness to a tall stadium with two-sided wooden bench seating that looks like it was meant for a jousting tournament. At its center, as the stage, is a thin, winding path full of soil and mud.

Set in primitive Scotland, Ashford and Branagh do not hesitate to bring on the grit and brutality that characterized Branagh’s celebrated film version of Henry V. This is, in effect, Macbeth for the Game of Thrones crowd. A quick sex scene for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is even thrown in for good measure.

If the battle scenes, where chaotic, savage sword fighting is played out with rain pouring from above, are extraordinary, the rest of the play is hard to pull off in such an unusual playing space and with uneven acoustics. But even with these challenges, this production remains absolutely riveting for two hours without intermission. The text is also spoken with the utmost clarity.

The visual highlights are plentiful, including Lady Macbeth sleepwalking on top of a Stonehenge-like collection of rocks, the witches levitating in the air and enemy soldiers marching from outside the arena equipped with patches of wood.

Branagh’s Macbeth is just as contemplative as it is urgent and full of sound and fury. Alex Kingston makes for a poised, resolute Lady Macbeth, making a fine contrast with Branagh’s agonizing and neuroticism. 


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