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The First Night Feature: Macbeth

Published April 17, 2008

"When shall we three meet again?" In a kind of Stalinist Russia, actually, in Rupert Goold's Chichester Festival Theatre production of Macbeth, which opened at the Gielgud last night. The production sees Goold and leading man Patrick Stewart once more team up on a Shakespearean production following the success of The Tempest, at the Novello. Matthew Amer joined the first night audience to watch the toil and trouble.

Goold is a director who seems to have a magic touch for relocating Shakespeare; while his Tempest was given new life by its arctic tundra staging, so setting Macbeth in an Eastern bloc dictatorship, circa WWI, lends a touch of paranoia to those around the eponymous antihero when people who stand in the soldier's way start to be disposed of.

A tale of greed in every sense – Stewart's Macbeth eats anything he can lay his hands on during the production, even snatching food away from the hungry Fleance – the seed of an idea, and its cultivation by an ambitious Lady Macbeth, leads the central protagonist into a reign of slaughter.

All is played out against the dirty, grimy, white brick walls of Anthony Ward's set, a seemingly subterranean bunker that is as unappealing as standing in Macbeth's way.

The weird sisters, the harbingers of Macbeth's doom, are sisters in two senses for Goold's production; nightmarish Florence Nightingales appearing in a battlefield hospital at the play's opening, before reappearing in a morgue and preparing the meat for Macbeth's feast. Death surrounds their every turn, and the echo of their voices, the unnatural electricity of their movement and rumbling bass that often accompanies them create a truly terrifying trio.

In Stewart we see a man haunted by his actions yet unafraid to get his hands dirty. His growing belief in fate, and the often-present sisters, leads to a sense of invulnerability and then an acceptance of what must happen. Kate Fleetwood, as the often devious Lady Macbeth, delivers a more straightforward, clear thinking, brazen wife, who, once she has set out her plan, will see nothing stand in its way. Her calls to 'unsex me' are delivered without a hint of remorse or foreboding.

To give away all Goold's secrets would be to diminish the effect of the production, yet there are more than enough theatrical treats and tweaks to invest Shakespeare’s words with a new energy. em>MA

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