From the National Theatre to a national tour, Macbeth ended its UK-wide run at the Wales Millennium Centre. Emily Garside reviews an indecisive, bland version of The Scottish Play:

The trouble with Shakespeare is that it needs to be one of two things – brilliant or terrible.

Terrible Shakespeare has its own set of virtues, we all secretly love a car crash production after all. But Shakespeare should also light a fire of inspiration, grab and play with your emotions, show off why this work has endured. When it doesn’t… that’s a bigger disappointment than a truly awful production.

So, to the National Theatre’s Macbeth, which while veering close to the edge of awful, never quite manages it. Instead this show stays as distantly grey as its set.

Macbeth Wales Millennium Centre

Evelyn Roberts, Elizabeth Chan & Olivia Sweeney (image courtesy of Brinkhoff-Mogenburg)

Granted the set is one of the highlights. Plays are often lost on the Wales Millennium Centre stage, vast as it and the wooden auditorium are. Macbeth does prove that National Theatre tours fit there – used to filling the expanse of the Olivier Theatre, this production fills the space and never once feels drowned by it. Rae Smith‘s design is ominous and effective, particularly when the action takes place on the large ramp-like structure at centre stage. It may even be more effective if the whole production had taken place here or a similarly abstract space, rather than the series of half ‘rooms’ that come in and out for different locations. But the whole thing creates a sense of a nowhere-but-anywhere, broken-down Kingdom that director Rufus Norris seeks to create.

Macbeth Wales Millennium Centre

Olivia Sweeney, Kirsty Besterman & Reuben Johnson (image courtesy of Brinkhoff-Mogenburg)

Lady Macbeth (Kirsty Besterman) is a particular standout. Her attitude in the early scenes has the air of a woman done with cleaning up after men, an exasperation that well suits this contemporary production. Besterman plays her character with restraint but also humanity, to make her inevitable downfall all the more moving. None of her lines, particularly her soliloquies, are thrown away and there’s a considered intelligence to the performance.

As MacbethMichael Nardone also offers a restrained but considered performance. As much as his air and costume is rough around the edges in the world Norris creates, Nardone’s performance is more intellectual than emotional, and offers a strong take on much of the material. However, some of the bombast and fire is missing from his soliloquies, redeemed only by the tenderness and emotion at Lady Macbeth’s death.

Macbeth Wales Millennium Centre

Michael Nardone (image courtesy of Brinkhoff-Mogenburg)

Overall, the Macbeth cast seem slightly lost in the production. Much like good vs. terrible in Shakespeare, there also needs to be a strong choice about setting and intent. Norris seems to have done neither – this Macbeth wanders an indeterminate grey wasteland. And such a lack of clarity seeps throughout this revival, making it ultimately feel aimless.


Macbeth played at Wales Millennium Centre until 23 March 2019. For more information, please visit the production website.