Review: John Heffernan is Macbeth at the Young Vic but he isn't dancing
The last Macbeth I saw was on the big screen and starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. It was a powerful, visual, period piece; muscular, bloody and muddy with the Scottish Highlands rain-lashed sweeping landscapes as its back drop.
Fast forward to the Young Vic's current production, directed by Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin, and it couldn't contrast more. This is contemporary setting for starters. The walls of the stark set narrow towards the back of the stage to form a door sized entry point. A segment about two thirds back slides to one side taking with it members of the cast and bringing on others as if everything is slotting into place or being ordered and filed. There are hidden doors everywhere.
In the opening battle the soldiers are dressed to look like a cross between military personnel and crime scene investigators. Rather than dying on the end of a sword, victims are suffocated with plastic bags before having their throats cut. The bodies, wrapped in plastic and gaffer tape, are piled up to be logged by a clip-board wielding official.
The three witches appear dressed in flesh coloured leotards, faces bare of make up. They twitch, jerk, tremble and shake in an almost inhuman dance. Are they what is hidden in Macbeth's soul, his darkest thoughts, the naked truth?
It is easy to diagnose Fassbender's Macbeth with what we now know as post traumatic stress but for John Heffernan's murderous Scot there is something slightly more unhinged. Lady Macbeth, a strong, cool and elegant Anna Maxwell Martin, points him firmly in the direction of the path towards his perceived destiny but it is Macbeth who runs careering down it. And in the background the witches lurk.
There are parties for the King, old and new and more dance, a combination of synchronised pulse and fluidity, it is ordered chaos with Macbeth often in the middle of it. But Macbeth isn't dancing, except perhaps in his mind with an agony of purpose that makes you feel sorry for him. In the quieter moments, where it is his conscience and ambitious desire raging, Heffernan speaks with a clarity and comprehension that makes him equal parts scary and pitiable. What you get a sense of is a haunting desperation, perhaps a cognisance of the destructive path he is on but incapable of turning away from.
Fassbender's Macbeth was powerful and so is this but for very different reasons. The dance elements segue smoothly into dialogue sometimes with a lingering overlap creating something that crackles with energy and tension. This is a bold production pregnant with atmosphere, drama and emotion; it builds towards chaos and tragedy until you are left with a single channel of blood making its journey slowly down the stage towards the audience. Loved it.
It is on at the Young Vic until January 23, 2016 and is two hours straight through without an interval.
One of the first professional plays Mr W did was His Dark Materials at the National Theatre and Anna Maxwell Martin was also in that.