“Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”
Gregory Doran’s production of Macbeth for the RSC played at the Swan in 1999 before transferring to the Roundhouse and then touring internationally with its stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter. And given its success, the show was filmed for television at the London venue, using the subterranean tunnels there as well as the stage to make the most of the location.
It’s a highly atmospheric, contemporary take on the play that may lack a little specificity but soars on the strengths of its leads. Sher makes an unexpectedly convincing soldier, on the brink of madness from the outset and Walter makes possibly the best Lady Macbeth I’ve ever seen, from her quivering anticipation whilst bathing to the chilling eroticism with which she controls her husband, it’s an extraordinary performance.
Doran’s exploitation of the tight camera frame also plays well, many of the soliloquys are delivered in direct close-up and with the calibre of actor here, it makes a strong case for filming theatre as the hushed subtleties on display here would not be evident from the cheap seats in a barn like the Roundhouse. It’s also nice to see some familiar face in the ensemble, particularly Richard Armitage, Ken Bones and Noma Dumezweni.
My only real cavil with this production is the way in which the supernatural feels as if it has been filleted out almost completely. The weird sisters become bag ladies and near unintelligible with it as their lines have been considerably edited but even if the watchword is modern, one can’t help but feel that superstition and dark beliefs are as much a part of our make-up now as ever. But given the unholy force of Sher and Walter at the top of the game, this is a highly recommended Macbeth.