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Review: Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma in Macbeth, Dock X

Macbeth poster

Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma's Macbeth is being staged in an industrial warehouse in Canada Water, south east London, which means there is space around the auditorium to start setting the scene.

As you step in from the dockside entrance, there are banners emblazoned with an 'M' and the sound of jet aircraft flying overhead. A military base-style siren goes off to let you know that the house is open.

Getting to your seat involves a walk through a battle-scarred street scene, and once inside, there are military personnel. The ominous post-battle sounds continue. It's a charged atmosphere.

The raked seating is on three sides of the stage, so even sitting almost at the back, it didn't feel too far away from the stage. The aisles are used during the performance for some even closer encounters.

A bomb-damaged concrete slab and a series of steps form the performance space. At the back are electronic sliding doors with frosted glass, which obscures all unless objects - or people - are very close.

Macbeth entrance

When the play proper starts, the change of tone from the atmospheric build-up is a bit of a jolt which is a shame.

The energy and pace feel sluggish. Does it reflect a post-battle malaise?

Once Lady Macbeth and Macbeth come together, a spark ignites. There is an interesting and changing power dynamic between the two, which is often presented through their body language.

Lady Macbeth is initially flirty with her husband, attracted to the potential of greater power, perhaps.

But then you see her retreating from her husband as the power dynamic shifts, and Macbeth treads an ever-bloodier path.

Kisses, once passionate, become pecks.

The three witches are presented as figments of Macbeth's imagination.

They appear more frequently as his mental state becomes more precarious: cold and calculated mischief-makers with a hint of relish as Macbeth plucks up the crumb trail they leave.

Fiennes isn't the straight-backed military hero turned King but seems to stoop under the weight of his fracturing mind. This is a mentally unstable Macbeth whose energy and mood become ever more manic.

This is also a bloody Macbeth. There are few dry stabs, and the stage killings can be brutally depicted. 

Macbeth's final fight with Macduff has swords clashing loudly; it's not often such battles feel genuinely dangerous.

But the pace and focus seem to flag when the Macbeths are not on stage. Aside from the witches, the supporting cast seems to blend into the background.

It's a shame that the promised atmosphere at the start isn't consistently maintained, but for the Macbeths and witches, I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.

Macbeth, Dock X

Adapted by Emily Burns

Directed by Simon Godwin

Starring Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including an interval.

Booking until 30 March; for more information and tickets visit the Macbeth official website. This production transfers to Washington DC in April.

I was in a £35 seat on Row P.

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