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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
MACBETH
at Lyceum Theatre

JUST A PAWN IN THE GAME
By JESSICA BRANCH

  PATRICK STEWART and Kate Fleetwood

Perhaps the eeriest thing in the Chichester Festival Theatre's production of Macbeth, starring Patrick Stewart as the Scottish regicide, is the creepily modern class consciousness that undergirds it. The witches' insidious shifting guises are all nurturing service roles - nurses in a grim hospital, waitresses at the banquet at which Banquo's ghost confronts Macbeth. The rise of the cursed couple seems as marked by their social gaffes as by their criminal wrongdoings. And the thrice-hailed thane himself alternately bullies and plays pater familias to the lowlife murderers he hires to kill Banquo - even feeding them scraps as he makes the act of constructing a cheese sandwich a form of psychological class warfare.

 

But this awareness is just one facet of this stellar production's fascination with twentieth-century fascism's parallels to Macbeth's bloody rise to totalitarian power. Complete with an ominous industrial elevator at the back of the stage, the multimedia set plays with images borrowed from World War II and Cold War films - Banquo is assassinated publicly on a train the young Scottish prince's testing of MacDuff takes place in an English music hall after a show - piano serving as prop Macbeth and his wife chat tensely in a countryhouse kitchen, amply provided with knives. Even the witches' incantations are recited in an anachronistic rap-influenced style. Against all the odds, these contemporary flourishes really do give the play a chilling political relevance.

 

Not least of the factors making it all work are strong performances from the principals. Stewart portrays the overambitious, overimaginative Scot as a soldier whose powers of articulation aren't always equal to his forebodings, whose reason is swayed by his desires. Even as he hears out the witches' initial greeting, he knows he's being rooked - he just can't quite figure out how it's being done. And by the time MacDuff gleefully confesses the secret of his birth, it's only of academic interest to Macbeth - he already knows that somehow, the fiend has yet again equivocated with him - to his destruction. The relationship between Macbeth and his young trophy wife (Kate Fleetwood) dissolves swiftly and mutually - both seem filled with physical horror toward each other almost as soon as the first murder is committed, and she comes to seem terrified of her formerly adoring husband. Fleetwood's portrayal of the ambitious young country gentlewoman's descent into murder and madness does evoke both pity and fear: her handwashing mad scene is painfully raw and jagged, while Macbeth throws away she should have died hereafter as an apology for reacting at all to his wife's death. These timeless performances, as much as the play's clever parallels, reveal the stark universality of the destructive quest for power at all costs.

 

 

 


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