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Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios 1

Published 25 February 2013

Dirty deeds feel grubbier than ever in this hotly-anticipated James McAvoy-led production of Macbeth.

I felt like leaping into a hot shower as I left the Trafalgar Studio press night, in fact, so ingrained with grime is this Jamie Lloyd-directed version of Shakespeare’s famous Scottish play.

Set in a post-apocalyptic industrial era, where soldiers are armed with whatever they can find, clothes are held together by stains and the whiff of cordite hangs thickly like mist in the air, this is a Macbeth with filth – or, more likely, congealed blood – under its fingernails.

It lays weight on the naked brutality of the Bard’s tale about a Scottish lord whose ambition, fuelled by supernatural speculation, drives him to murder, and is never afraid of a splash of bodily fluid, an audience-shocking holler or the most hideous masks that would make a movie serial killer quiver with repulsion.

McAvoy, the British Hollywood success returning to the London stage, wields machete and axe as though they were extensions of his own arms, and throws himself bruisingly around the stage as a soldier consumed by bloodlust. Why? Possibly, Lloyd suggests, because he and Claire Foy’s granite-hard, unswerving Lady Macbeth have lost a child.

While McAvoy’s taut Macbeth moves from excitement to paranoia to enjoyment of his megalomania, so the pressure and guilt of murder hardens Foy’s Lady M, her facade only cracking during the sleepwalking scene. Together, their parental pain is palpable.

Though it is McAvoy that catches the eye, RSC veteran and soft pair of Shakespearean hands Forbes Masson offers a cynical, untrusting Banquo who returns with seething anger, and Jamie Ballard has the production’s most heart-breaking moment as Macduff learning the fate of his family.

It’s worth mentioning too, if you’ve been to the Trafalgar Studio 1 before, that the stage has been raised by two metres for Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season, with seats added to the reverse for this production. It all brings the audience that much closer to the action, the gore and the dirt… which might leave you trying to wash imagined muck off your hands for days to come, so striking is Lloyd’s vision.

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