Review: Macbeth


by Mike Matthaiakis

Director Simon Godwin, in collaboration with Ralph Fiennes, has crafted an ambitious production of “Macbeth” designed for viewing in existing warehouses, emphasizing the idea of containment. While Godwin did not secure the role of running the RSC, this “event theatre” venture echoes Fiennes’s past site-specific Shakespeare endeavors. The play, which initially unfolded on the outskirts of Liverpool before heading to London’s docklands, offers a unique experience in a vast venue known as “Dock X,” complete with a three-sided auditorium and an austere compound stage.

The choice of a warehouse setting, reminiscent of suburban retail areas with a sense of impermanence and sinistral ambiance, sets the tone. Designer Frankie Bradshaw prepares the audience mentally with a buffer zone filled with wreckage, including a car on fire, heightened by the sounds of screeching fighter jets. The opening scene features three witches crawling towards the stage, embodying ragged survivors with a haunting moan that adds an air of ominous foreboding.

Ralph Fiennes, in the role of Macbeth, brings a controlled stillness and cerebral energy befitting a care-worn soldier tantalized by the prospect of power. At 60, Fiennes delivers physical restraint, vacillating decisiveness, and a deep engagement with the play’s dark verses. His portrayal is marked by perturbation, agitation, and a truly horrid gaze during pivotal moments, such as plotting Banquo’s death. Fiennes is a great Shakespearean actor – he truly shines as Macbeth.

Indira Varma is strong, poignant and sometimes vicious as Lady Macbeth. Together with Fiennes, they make a powerful duo that should not be missed. 

The set is very well-designed to show the duality of the couple. By being symmetrical, it reveals the balance between Macbeth and his wife and the fact that they are accomplices. Its versatility is very well used by Simon Godwin as the play unfolds proving that this is a very carefully-directed production.  

Even if the production leans towards the traditional rather than radical, catering to set-text coach parties, it exudes coherence, confidence, and old-school classiness. In a year marked by lackluster Shakespeare adaptations, Godwin’s “Macbeth” stands out as a noteworthy achievement, offering a serious-minded approach that skips the traditional “Porter scene” and delves into the dark riches of the play’s verse. While it may not be a full-voltage, visceral experience, the production successfully captures the essence of “Macbeth” and leaves a lasting impression. All in all, it’s a noteworthy contribution to the Folio quatercentenary year.

Macbeth is at Dock X, in London.