Extra Review: All hail Macbeth

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DISCUSSED in the bar before the show: whether Macbeth would be one hour and 45 minutes of Alan Cumming running from side to side and talking to himself.

There is an element of truth in this, and it’s what sets apart this production as one of the National Theatre of Scotland’s finest to date.

For those who have been living under a rock recently, the Hollywood actor has returned to Glasgow and taken up residence in Pollokshields for a new take on The Scottish Play.

A one man Macbeth is bound to spark interest, and the Tramway show lived up to the hype generated from Glasgow-wide advertising and extensive Twitter coverage.

The action is transported to the eerie confines of an asylum – one all-purpose, green-tiled room overlooked by cameras and observation windows – and follows one dishevelled soul as he works his way through characters, plot and increasing mania.

All credit must be given to Alan Cumming for a haunting, extremely physical – and no doubt exhausting – performance.

While it takes time to adjust to character changes, considered and fluid switches between them – signifiers such as an apple for Banquo (perhaps a reminder of the banquet he’ll never see?) and an affected Anglicised accent for King Duncan – help to acclimatise the audience.

Cumming’s Lady Macbeth is a triumph of physical theatre – first appearing naked and sprawled in a bath and characterised by highly sexual, animalistic movements (a technique which comes in handy during what could have been a troublesome seduction scene between Macbeth and his wife).

Credit is also due for the technical aspects of the play – in particular, three screens overhead, signifying an ever-watchful CCTV presence, and allowing Cumming to take on those harbingers of doom, the witches.

CCTV footage also provides the play’s most unsettling moment, as Banquo’s ghost stands over our sleeping inmate on camera but cannot be seen on stage.

But the most intriguing prop of all remains a crumpled brown paper bag, labelled evidence and cradled by our protagonist on the rare occasion when he comes to – although audience members expecting a full explanation from its contents may be disappointed, as it merely acts as a tool for debate in the bar afterwards.

The NTS production is a fascinating twist on The Scottish Play, taking themes of ambition, betrayal and madness and placing them in the context of psychological fugue.

It may not, it has to be said, have the same effect on those unfamiliar with Macbeth, but as one of Shakespeare’s most reproduced works, the latest is an intriguing concept well-executed by one actor who clearly understands it.

The action begins where it ends, as the only secondary characters – two staff members who interject to settle the patient throughout – leave a sobbing, solitary figure in bed, crying out “When shall we three meet again?”

It’s the opinion of this review that – much like another NTS success story, Black Watch – Glasgow hasn’t seen the last of Macbeth.

Macbeth runs at Trawmway until Saturday (June 30) before moving to New York. Tickets are, unfortunately, sold out.