Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Did Critics Think Macbeth Revival Foul Or Fair?

Did Critics Think Macbeth Revival Foul Or Fair?

Last evening, Director Rupert Goold's acclaimed London production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart opened at the Great White Way's Lyceum Theatre.

On the other side of the pond, Goold was honored just last month with an Olivier Award for turning the Bard's work into a more contemporary tale by borrowing heavily from Joseph Stalin’s Great Terror. The play transferred from London to Broadway by way of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) where it played earlier this year; many critics are allowing their earlier critiques to stand.

Heralding this "a Macbeth you'll never be able to forget," Clive Barnes of New York Post awards the production four stars: "Goold's brilliance is not in time or place but method - dissecting the play's pathological madness better than I've ever seen. His radical production choices, so wholeheartedly embraced by his cast, offers a Clouzot-like film noir environment (backed up with cool, black and dazzling efficiency by his designer, Anthony Ward) which runs from field hospital to abatoir to kitchen, from shabby banquet table to darkling wood.... The 67-year-old Stewart ... has reinvented himself from an admirable character actor to one of the stars of the English-speaking theater."

While taking note of "an admittedly kitchen-sink aspect to the proceedings" that "threaten to overwhelm," Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter is nevertheless largely positive: "Stewart delivers a fascinatingly complex performance in the title role, cannily hinting at the character's initial hesitancy and vulnerability before adopting a more fearsome demeanor.... He's well matched by Kate Fleetwood's particularly sultry Lady Macbeth -- that she's so much younger than her co-star only adds to Macbeth's motivation -- and Michael Feast's subtly anguished Macduff."

Deeming the revival "overstated but fascinating," USA Today's Elysa Gardner offers three out of four stars: "[F]lashy features, plus high-pitched performances by Michael Feast as Macduff and Christopher Patrick Nolan as the demonic porter, are miraculously put in context by Stewart's witty, nuanced work, which reveals Macbeth as an intelligent, rational person driven to madness by outside forces and his own violent transgressions."

In his February review of the BAM incarnation, The New York Times' Ben Brantley took particular note of Stewart's performance: "[A]ll (the show's) sound and fury would signify, if not nothing, then yet another politically minded evening of Shakespeare in period drag were it not for the brilliant performance at its center. What makes this one a must-see is Mr. Stewart’s thrilling recognition that his character is as close kin to the fatally introspective Hamlet as he is to power-wielding men of ill will like Richard III. His performance is the first I have seen to realize completely what the scholar Harold Bloom means when he calls this play 'a tragedy of the imagination.' Small wonder that Lady Macbeth (Kate Fleetwood, excellent and original) -- willful, canny and hard-wired for success -- sees danger signs whenever her husband’s gaze goes hazy."

Concluding that Stewart offers a "commanding, meticulously shaded performance in a production generally far less subtle, but unstinting in high-style inventiveness," Variety's David Rooney also reviewed the earlier BAM staging: "Exactly how well Stewart is served by the blood-soaked flamboyance of Rupert Goold's overburdened production will be a matter of taste, but the rising-star Brit director's Macbeth is as cinematic as it is boldly theatrical. It may not always elucidate the plot or characters to best advantage but it sure keeps you glued.... Goold's take on one of Shakespeare's most violent plays is to make it even more horrific, freely mixing bone-chilling supernatural shivers with vicious warmongering, Machiavellian politics, psychological unease and technological intrusions."

Calling "this occasionally overstuffed form," in his earlier BAM review, Eric Grode of The New York Sun offers a mixed review: "The milk of human kindness, always a rare commodity in Shakespeare's spare but unsparing Macbeth, is nowhere to be found in the scorched-earth production on grisly display at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Set amid the depravity of Stalinist Russia and firmly anchored by a wrathful Patrick Stewart, director Rupert Goold's daring and diabolical mounting turns all of Scotland into a virtual abattoir, peopled with little more than a pile of corpses that an ever-dwindling coterie of survivors must climb over on the way to a gore-slicked crown."

This very limited engagement is due to close on May 24, several weeks before the revival is expected to be in contention for the Tonys. Having missed the BAM staging, I'll be taking in a production early next month on Broadway and provide my own SOB Review soon thereafter.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Lucky #45? Macbeth Opens On Broadway (April 8, 2008)
Hairspray Gels With Olivier Voters (March 10, 2008)
No Exaggeration: Dead To Depart Broadway (February 26, 2008)
2008 Laurence Olivier Award Nominations Announced (February 6, 2008)

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