James McAvoy's Macbeth - first thoughts
Review: Great Expectations at the Vaudeville Theatre

James McAvoy's Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios - second thoughts

164635_2_previewDirector Jamie Lloyd's actors burst onto the Trafalgar Studios main stage full of the adrenalin of battle and heat of victory. Dressed in drab, practical, modern clothes that look like they've been worn and handed down many times, their weapons are a mixture of machetes, axes and guns that, like the clothes, are showing signs of wear and tear.

This dystopian Scotland set Macbeth flexes its muscles from the outset. The women join the men as soldiers demonstrating physical as well mental prowess in Shakespeare's tale of power and manipulation.

It is a very physical production that leads up to a final battle between Macbeth and Macduff that sees the two opponents trying to hack at each other with primitive weapons - certainly no dainty sword-fighting here.

McAvoy is very much the leader of the pack, fit and muscular - not quite back to Wanted standards but he's certainly been working out. He puts in an assured and nuanced performance too. He is at times terrifyingly strong and unpredictable while at others shows a real mental vulnerability and tenderness.

But while the grim dystopian back drop works well for this muscular and grim production, adding a layer of danger, there are also some odd choices. For example, when the King is visiting  Lady Macbeth (Claire Foy) is seen squirting a can of air-freshener around which seems odd when there is a grimy toilet in the middle of the stage (used to throw up in and sit on) and the floor and furniture looks battered and filthy. If they can't come by new weapons I doubt they'd have a nice can of Glade to waft around or, looking at the stained and ragged clothing, even care about the odour.

The play is still in preview and I'm sure it will bed-in but for me the second half flagged at bit. It is much shorter and the audience around me grew fidgety during the Macduff/Malcolm scene. Marrying quieter scenes when the production is generally loud and physical is difficult to do and I couldn't help thinking 'come on, move on to the big battle we all know its coming'.

It probably doesn't help having such a charismatic lead who dominates the stage and quite rightly so. Scenes without Macbeth just didn't feel quite as engaging.

I was lucky enough to be sitting in the stage seats and you certainly feel part of the action but a word of warning, the air-con is turned up, presumably to keep the actors comfortable in their heavy clothing which made for a very chilly two and half hours.

*Production spoiler alert* It doesn't help that at one point the loading doors at the back of the stage are opened to let soldiers in ahead of the big battle. While it was momentarily atmospheric to be watching genuine sleet as a back drop to the actors, it ultimately just made it even colder.

This is a production I'd dearly like to see again in a couple of weeks just to see how it has bedded in, at the moment it feels a little too raw at times and occasionally awkward. It's not a production of Macbeth where I felt I gained any more insight into a Shakespeare play I only know in passing but once it is in its stride it has the potential to be a hell of a ride.

Macbeth runs at the Trafalgar Studios until 27 April and you can read Poly's review here


Jamie Ballard who plays Macduff was in ...some trace of her with Mr W.

PS 24/1/14 Just came across this picture which means James McAvoy has met Mr W now I just need to see the two of them in something together preferably a play but a film would do.