Trafalgar Studios, London SW1
Charismatic James McAvoy and Claire Foy in the blood-soaked tragedy
If there is one compelling idea in director Jamie Lloyd’s urgent, blood-soaked vision, it is that the Macbeths’ plan to murder their king derives from being denied a child. In fact, it is not the gas-masked witches and their prophecies that haunt this modern-dress production, but children — those that are born, those that are murdered and those, suggested when James McAvoy’s Macbeth tenderly touches his wife’s empty womb, that were never born.
As a muscular Macbeth, the X-Men star displays more charisma in the flesh than I have seen him deliver on screen. He is a battle-axe-wielding warrior but is easily emasculated by Claire Foy’s manipulative Lady Macbeth. Yet there is a subtle observation that underlies his performance.
Whereas many Macbeths become more unhinged as the repercussions of the murder unravel, McAvoy’s — who speaks Shakespeare’s verse with a refreshing Scottish lilt — grows steadily saner. Choices become clearer. And while other Macbeths are diminished by their conscience, McAvoy’s squares up to his rather than shrinking from it.
Less interestingly, Lloyd leans heavily on apocalyptic cliches and conventions such as short-circuiting lights that flicker and fizz between scenes. And there is a tiresome overuse of big bangs to shock the audience into attentiveness. But it is all anchored by a thrilling and enthralling return to the stage by