At more than three hours, The Tragedy of Macbeth stretches the patience at the Almeida Theatre, despite strong work from Saoirse Ronan and James McArdle
“Let not light see my black and deep desires”
The tragedy of Macbeth is that it is a notoriously difficult play to stage well and given its ubiquity on school curricula, it is staged hella often. At least it is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays but the further tragedy of this Macbeth is that it breaks the three hour mark with its running time. And as I left Yaël Farber’s production at the Almeida Theatre, I can’t say I felt it had made the case for such indulgence.
The Tragedy of Macbeth initially grabbed headlines for marking the UK stage debut of Saoirse Ronan (she has previously been on Broadway in The Crucible) and so to get your hands on a ticket in this intimate theatre is a job in itself (streaming could be your friend, details below). And much of Farber’s innovation in recalibrating this show has been to seriously beef up Lady Macbeth’s presence in the play, physically as well as verbally, something which is intermittently very effective.
Placing her so centrally onstage makes sense given the intensity of their marriage but what it cleverly does, is give us an opportunity to track the evolution of their relationship as it comes under the inordinate pressures here. There’s no mistaking the initial united sense of purpose as Ronan and James McArdle sizzle but as ambition is pursued to bloody ends, we also bear witness to its fracturing with some adroit textual changes.
But Farber’s predilection towards the atmospheric means that there’s a lot of extraneous stuff to wade through, which combined with a sense of pacing that if you’re being kind you’d call stately and if you’re not, then glacial, feels like a barrier to the world of the play. A vaguely contemporary setting (designed by Soutra Gilmour) is dominated by an ever-present mournful cello (Aoife Burke), too determined to control our mood.