Students studying GCSE English Literature, several A Level Theatre Studies students and some second year A Level English Literature students went to see the National Theatre’s production of Macbeth directed by Rufus Norris. The tragedy is one of this year’s GCSE English Literature set texts.
This production has been controversially received with most of the broadsheet reviews giving two stars: “Is this a dud which I see before me?” (Dominic Cavendish). Consequently, my students and myself were expecting a quirky rather weak production and were surprised at some of the performance’s strengths.
Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear delivered much of Shakespeare’s verse with a fine, rhythmic sensitivity. Sadly some of Norris’s cuts destroyed the power of some of Kinnear’s lines, notably splitting Macbeth’s final “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech into two halves to enable the stage to revolve, hence undermining the philosophical reflection on life’s futility. Moreover, there was no dramatic expression of the nobility of Macbeth in the opening scenes and accordingly, the subsequent pity and fear for the damnation of his soul was lost.
The lighting designer, James Farncombe, effectively darkened the stage and spotlighted Rory Kinnear for the delivery of Macbeth’s soliloquies. This was helpful for the students as reading the text often fails to convey the power of this dramatic device.
The students noted the red suit worn by Duncan, an identical red suit worn by Macbeth but not by Malcolm who wore a type of battledress. This highlighted the theme of usurpation.
Rae Smith’s post-apocalyptic set looked like a squat and added nothing to the play. In fact it served to confuse. “This castle hath a pleasant seat” when looking at a makeshift hut was merely comic and the banquet scene, sitting around folding tables and drinking from tin mugs, was ridiculous. The ghost of Banquo appeared through the transparent sheeting of the hut and that was, surprisingly, quite effective.
We had interesting post-production discussions in the classroom next day. Generally, the students found it helpful to have seen the play given that we had completed our study of this text. However, they all felt that for those in the audience who had no knowledge of Macbeth, or of Shakespearean drama, this production would not have been a good introduction.