In front of a multi-pillared backdrop splashed with streaks of blood, the opening scene exploded onto the stage, setting the tempo for the rest of the performance. The deafening sounds of thunderous warfare and staccato gunshots filled the theatre, with flashes of light illuminating the bloody mayhem.
Macbeth, played by Sean O’Shea, was shown as a flawed and disheveled figure from the first. The witches’ prophecy that he would become King of Scotland started him on a murderous path from which he could eventually no longer deviate, aided by his ambitious wife, Lady Macbeth (Linda Cropper).
The tense atmosphere was broken only once, with a brief moment of comedy in the first half of the play, when a servant (David Hynes) got up in the early hours of the morning to open the door for MacDuff (David Whitney). The audience laughed almost too heartily at his comic performance, betraying a sense of relief at the diversion.
Sean O’Shea and Linda Cropper’s performances were fantastic and I found myself witnessing their rapidly-spiraling downfall with horror. O’Shea’s portrayal of Macbeth gave us no glimpse of any redeeming qualities or the “milk of human kindness” that Lady Macbeth said he was too full of. His qualms about murdering Duncan were practical rather than moral and he played up the dark, tortured and psychotic side of the role. His tall, wiry frame made Duncan’s royal coat hang loosely on him, evoking the line “like a giant's robe Upon a dwarfish thief”.
Linda Cropper’s Lady Macbeth was beautiful to watch. She glided on and off the stage, first convincing her husband to commit murder before gradually descending into madness and suicide. Her moral guilt contrasted with Macbeth, who felt nothing but anxiety at the possibility that he may be deposed.
The scene with Banquo’s (Richard Sydenham) ghost was particularly superb, with Macbeth’s sudden outbursts and pathetic attempts to soothe his guests convincing and Lady Macbeth playing the embarrassed hostess perfectly.
It would be difficult to criticise such a sound performance, although some of the younger supporting cast were understandingly a little weaker. It was only until the actors took their final bow that the noise and violence ended and I was left breathing a sigh of relief. This performance had me gripping my seat and wanting to look away but compelled to keep watching.
Bell Shakespeare presents
by William Shakespeare
His Majesty's Theatre
5 - 14 July 2007
08 9484 1133