Jamie Lloyd has previously directed Cyrano De Bergerac without making his entire cast speak in Gascon accents, and The Duchess of Malfi with nary a trace of Campanian Italian. Why, then, is his Macbeth awash with rolling R’s and thick-as-thistles Caledonian burrs? He wants, apparently, to make the play relevant for the Scotland of today. He sets it, however, the day after tomorrow, in a post-apocalyptic land riven by fogs and rains in which everyone dresses like a bunch of Mad Macs.
There has been flippant speculation that such a staging will be disadvantageous to Alex Salmond’s campaign towards next year’s Scottish independence referendum. On the contrary, I think Lloyd’s vision is likely to be resented as a biased portrait imposed from south of the border; it surely can only advance the separatist cause, because it is simply too implausibly determined to seem Scottish.
The lead actor often makes more effort to play the accent than the lines. This is surprising, since James McAvoy was raised in a working-class area of Glasgow, but there it is. His facial and gestural performance is rich, but he so vigorously imposes Scottish cadence patterns in his speech that the result is a flattening of affect long before the bloody Thane’s final-act disillusionment; by that stage he is dragging out his lines unconscionably. McAvoy uses the smiles and laughs that are his long suit, but deploys them to the opposite end from their more usual charm: here they indicate sardonicism and often a touch of hysteria. It is a clever touch, but too unvarying.
Stronger performances, because more authentic, come from Forbes Masson as Banquo and Jamie Ballard, unable or unwilling to get too Scots as Macduff and all the better for it. Claire Foy’s youthful Lady Macbeth is also a fine creation, although she tails off rather once her character realises just what all this plotting and wickedness has let her in for.
The unfriendly Trafalgar Studios space has been mitigated slightly by extending the stage and introducing some audience seating on it. Even so, this feels like the single gravest misstep of Lloyd’s directing career so far. It is too easy to describe a production of Macbeth as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”, but on occasion it is the most succinct and apposite option.