Review: Macbeth


by Mike Matthaiakis

Max Webster’s production of “Macbeth” at the Donmar Warehouse is a groundbreaking and immersive experience that utilizes binaural stereo to create a 3D soundscape, with audience members wearing headphones throughout. This innovation places the spectators in close connection with David Tennant’s devious and sociopathic portrayal of Macbeth, allowing for a unique engagement with the character’s inner thoughts and darkest intentions.

Gareth Fry’s intricate soundscape, layered with battle cries and ethereal voices, enhances the atmosphere, providing an eerie and intimate backdrop. The absence of visible witches adds a mysterious dimension, making their presence felt through audio elements. This approach allows for a heightened sense of naturalism and intimacy in the actors’ performances, emphasizing nuanced interactions.

David Tennant’s portrayal of Macbeth is a tour de force, characterized by speed, intelligence, and a descent into sociopathic ruthlessness. Tennant masterfully navigates Macbeth’s transformation from a Machiavellian plotter to a tyrant who worships only himself. The use of binaural audio intensifies Tennant’s performance, creating a chilling portrayal of a man spiraling into moral emptiness.

Cush Jumbo’s Lady Macbeth is a standout, portrayed as a shred of conscience that Macbeth gradually discards. Jumbo conveys real shock and agony, particularly in the sleepwalking scene. The production skillfully expands on the implication of the Macbeths losing a child, emphasizing the psychological underpinnings of their disruptive actions.

The exploration of masculinity within this martial society is another compelling aspect, with Noof Ousellam’s Macduff challenging traditional expectations of immediate revenge, choosing to “feel it as a man” before resorting to violence. This nuanced portrayal adds depth to the characters and resonates with contemporary themes.

The play’s relentless momentum is harnessed brilliantly in a production that runs under two hours, capturing Macbeth’s tragic descent with sharp effectiveness. The presence of children throughout the narrative emphasizes the reliance on dynastic structures, providing a psychological foundation for the Macbeths’ actions.

While the use of headphones offers an innovative and immersive experience, there are moments of overuse, particularly with certain audio elements. The absence of a purely theatrical liveness and a collective audience experience is noted, but the overall production is slick, stylish, and impactful.

Rosanna Vize’s monochromatic costume design blends ancient and modern elements seamlessly, while the brutal depiction of violence, especially the deaths of innocents, draws parallels with contemporary conflicts. Jatinder Singh Randhawa’s comedic portrayal of the Porter provides welcome relief from the intense atmosphere.

“Macbeth” at the Donmar Warehouse, with its innovative approach, stellar performances, and thought-provoking reinterpretation, proves to be an unmissable and memorable theatrical experience, anchored by David Tennant’s compelling portrayal of a tragic monster.

Macbeth is at the Donmar Warehouse till 10 February.