POLLY Findlay’s 2015 production of the Merchant of Venice on the RST stage featured a huge pendulum swinging throughout. The point of which still remains lost on this reviewer, as it was on many others who saw it.
It could well be the director has a time fixation, in which case Macbeth is tailor made for her, with its preoccupation with time, as it passes, repeats and drags, as Oxford professor Emma Smith alludes to in a fascinating article contained in this production’s programme.
Here we have a clock counting down to Macbeth’s demise, set in motion by the equivocating Porter who is this production’s very own timekeeper. He is on stage throughout watching time pass, and also spends an inordinate amount of time chalking off time on a back wall. Then there are the capital lettered projections proclaiming ‘now’ and ‘later’ beamed large above the stage.
Time is everywhere. We even have a former Time Lord.
Christopher Eccleston makes his RSC debut with a solid if safe Macbeth, while RSC veteran Niamh Cusack provides a suitably power-hungry and then remorse-ridden Lady Macbeth. They are well supported, most notably by the ever-reliable Edward Bennett as Macduff, in a contemporary production which makes little use of the RST technical arsenal.
We are also presented with child onesie-wearing weird sisters carrying dolls – a nod to all too many horror films. They are even given that sinister echo to their voices, although sadly at times at the expense of understanding what they are saying.
There are some genuinely good ideas in this production but it all feels rather flat.
While Macbeth might be all about the psychological impact of unfolding events, most would still welcome some blood and guts. Here the audience has to settle for a few bloody hands. Maybe the RSC blood budget has been eaten up by The Duchess of Malfi gore-fest currently playing next door in the Swan.
If in the best horror tradition it’s a case of what’s not seen is more scary, then that’s not the case here. There is very little tension, even with the addition of dramatic dum-dum-dum music. And even when there is any it is quickly shattered. Michael Hodgson’s Porter equivocates well, but ‘stabbing’ motions behind backs and ‘he’s over there’ pointing are simply trite.
Macbeth might be Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, but at just over two hours this production all too often reminds just
how time can drag.
Macbeth runs until September 18.
Visit www.rsc.org.uk for tickets and further details.