Macbeth is always a date with destiny, in every sense. Like the other great (usually male) Shakespearean roles like Hamlet, Prospero and King Lear, it's one that classical actors progress inexorably towards (Othello used to be on this list, too, but it can rightly no longer be played by white actors since his race is so clearly specified, leaving the path open only for great black classical actors like Adrian Lester to play it).
Rory Kinnear, a theatre star whose stage career has largely been forged at the National, now returns there for his own startling grab for greatness, and since he has been paired with another returning NT star Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth, expectations have been running extremely high for this production, which is largely already sold out on the back of their names.
Neither of these fine, fierce and always ferociously intelligent actors disappoints - but the defiantly modern-dress production overall does. Directed by NT artistic director Rufus Norris, in his first Shakespearean production in a quarter of a century, he has activated the bravura spectacle of it on the Olivier stage.
Working with designer Rae Smith (who was also responsible for War Horse on this stage), there's a massive industrial bridge-like ramp centre-stage when the play begins, and inevitably, a lot of running up and down it. It also affords a neat trick to allow an onstage beheading to take place in front of our eyes (then repeated later, by which time we know what's coming).
But the scale of the production also mitigates against the domestic intensity of much of the drama, which often unfolds in monologue as Macbeth and Lady M wrestle so desperately with their own consciences. Some interiors are trucked on to pull the play into tighter focus, but there's also too much sound and fury, not to mention the dead weight of superstition and the supernatural. The witches are always a large part of the mystique and mystery of this play, but here their presence is amplified.
Kinnear holds the stage with shaven headed intensity and Duff with a craven ambitiousness, well supported by the fiery Patrick O'Kane as Macduff, Kevin Harvey as Banquo, Stephen Boxer as Duncan, Parth Thakerar as Malcolm and Trevor Fox as Porter.
Photo courtesy Brinkhoff Moegenburg