“I go, and it is done”
They appear to be creatures of habit up in Sheffield. Just as big musicals pop up at Christmas, a high profile Shakespeare forms the centrepiece of their autumn schedules and powerless to resist once again, I made my way to the Crucible, this time for Macbeth. Last year’s Othello was an extraordinary success – John Simm’s Hamlet the year before somewhat less to my tastes – and the casting news of Geoffrey Streatfeild and Claudie Blakley whetted my appetite for what lay ahead in Daniel Evans’ production.
But part of the problem in investing too much expectation in anticipated performances means that one can end up blinded to the more general merits of a production through the haze of disappointment. And so it was here as the central casting just doesn’t seem to work. I have no problem at all with atypical interpretations of characters, such subversions often lead the way to sensational new insight, but I simply couldn’t get a handle on what was trying to be done here.
Feeling an uncomfortable presence for most of the first half, Streatfeild lacks credibility as Macbeth as warrior or tyrant, missing the cold driving ambition that should underlie his bloodthirsty path to power as does Blakley, who barely scratches at the darkness of Lady Macbeth. My disappointments aside, I was most surprised at the ordinariness of the verse speaking from both, sometimes palpably ill-at-ease.
That’s not to say though that nothing works, not at all. Streatfeild improves greatly in the second half, as does Blakley to a lesser degree, with the focus on the unravelling of their respective mental states. And there are clever flashes of excellent work from much of the supporting cast: John Dougall and Sophie Roberts as the Macduffs make huge emotional impact, impressively so in the case of the latter; David Ganly is a strong Banquo and Ashley Zhangazha’s Ross and Joseph Drake’s Malcolm are also worthy of note.
And Evans’ decision to put the Crucible into the round, with Richard Kent’s design anchored around an evocative stone circle, is a thoughtful and shrewd reworking of the space. Its flexibility proves itself over and over and allows for striking visuals to explode from the heart of the theatre. The supernatural is foregrounded more than usual here to atmospheric effect, making this quite the memorable production in terms of design. I just wish that the central performances could have lived up to it.