Paul Miller has returned to the city of his birth to give us his vision of Macbeth. Thank god John Simm lived up to expectations in the title role because Miller’s plodding and gimmicky production is something of a let down.
Chichester Festival Theatre’s hot ticket of the Festival 2019 season fails to ignite with the magnitude of Shakespeare’s blood-soaked story of power and ambition seeming to overwhelm its director.
Simm is outstanding as the unhinged Macbeth whose black wit gives a dark humour to the psychopath’s killing spree.
His is both a bold and complex Thane, who, appearing a little squeamish at his first kill, grows into the role and positively luxuriates in knocking off friends, foes and fellow noblemen.
This is a Macbeth who is less a physical force and more a cerebral strategist.
My initial reservations at his aptitude for the task in hand, were dispelled almost immediately.
The play opens with news that Macbeth has pretty much defeated enemy armies almost single handed.
Simm doesn’t convince as a warrier at all. However, once he is blooded with the murder of his king, well, there’s no stopping him.
Macbeth probably isn’t the play to do at a time when knife crime is tragically rampant in our society.
But Simm visibly captures the ambitious lord’s descent into madness, becoming blasé at dispatching his detractors.
Miller spends most of his efforts in ensuring that Macbeth is front and centre of the production.
And he makes extensive use of video and music to provide atmosphere and menace in lieu of set.
All we have is an empty glass stage and that broke down on Saturday, halting the performance and sending its audience off home.
True, there is a rather nice banqueting table wheeled out occasionally but Miller’s reliance on tricksy graphics leaves the audience with watching lengthy exchanges of dialogue between characters and very little animation or movement.
As Macbeth’s go this is of middling fare. A journeyman’s production that delivers the story without any real tension, suspense or drama.
Lady Macbeth (Dervla Kirwan) opens Pandora’s Box by pushing her reluctant husband into treachery and then appears shocked by his destructive rampage through the echelons of the Scots royal court.
We may have been expecting a tougher stance from Kirwan but her Lady M visibly withers in front of the maniacal Macbeth.
Miller has gender swapped a few roles, which adds nothing to the production, although Beatriz Romilly does excel as the young and unprepared Malcolm.
And what about the mishmash of costumes? The men’s uniforms looked as though they had been filched from various Ibsen plays while the very benign and nonthreatening witches were dressed like New Age Travellers.
This lengthy Macbeth is saved by an absorbing central performance from its star and little else.
Macbeth runs on the Festival Theatre stage until October 26.
Director Paul Miller’s plodding and disappointing production is saved from mediocrity by a bold and complex turn by John Simm as Macbeth.