The National Theatre’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy remains modelled around the themes of misplaced loyalty and betrayal, but its approach is far removed from the heritage driven desires we have come to expect. The contemporary revival directed by Rufus Norris and designed by Rae Smith brings a post-apocalyptic world of anarchy to the Scottish throne. The Lowry plunges audiences into a gritty, dark colour wheel based on the aftermath of a civil war, unveiling a haunted world in which Macbeth is forced to take action.
How did we get here? The world formed by the producers of War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time offers stages of seclusion and levels of isolation with an overhanging bridge that conceals characters in crafty compartments. Its staging lets the witches run free, climbing poles to foretell Macbeth’s fate and surrounding him in short, unsettling music cues. Throughout the production, the music lingers on the melancholy, a natural soundtrack that evokes a sense of the unsettled. In this Walking Dead vision where kingdoms have risen from the dirt, the advantages of Macbeth’s promotions are unclear. Surrounded by plastic, from bin bag backgrounds to the carrier bags of slain heads, it is difficult to understand why competition is rife between friends, especially in a world where Macbeth is forced to duck tape his armour on and future kings rock tracksuit bottoms.
Although its characters remain grounded, the shows updated interpretation is forced to combat its narrative with its imagery and as a result, leaves little of its original intentions intact. Michael Nardone is a relatable Macbeth who falls victim to witches’ visions, but in a dystopian world where he is born into suffering, it feels like everything happens upon him in an unwanted quest for power. By mutating the ideas behind Macbeth’s ambition and a real struggle for supremacy, Norris dismantles what we know to be the fearless king who teeters between remorse and desire.
It is a visceral take that edits Shakespeare’s world of confusion and twists the classic into a digestible narrative for a younger audience. The shows expansive set is striking and impressive, but its new tone obliterates the reality needed to tie the Macbeth’s to power. Toying with the narrative space and time does not give more meaning to Macbeth’s plight and reframes the king to nothing more than a puppet.