Digital Theatre review: Macbeth (Christopher Eccleston)
Ivan Radford | On 14, May 2020
Christopher Eccleston is one of the most underrated actors of his generation. Currently seen stealing scenes in BBC One’s thoughtful drama The A Word, he has been quietly doing fantastic work in The Leftovers, Fortitude and more. Even his most notable role – bringing back Doctor Who for modern audiences – has been forgotten and overshadowed by the Time Lords who followed in his wake. In 2018, then, it was welcome and worthy news that he would be taking on the title role of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for a new production by the RSC.
Eccleston more than fits the bill, swaggering into the larger-than-life part with a hulking masculinity, manspreading on the throne and glowering through the doom-laden Scottish mist. He’s a bloody, brooding and briliantly gruff presence, and lets us glimpse the man hiding behind the bravado – most notably when interacting with Niamh Cusack’s excellent Lady Macbeth. Their dynamic has always been at the heart of the play, and the pair play it with Lady Macbeth’s impatience driving them to their dark deeds. In her high heels and jealous-green dress, she’s keen to push back against the world around her, even as she embraces her role as Macbeth’s loyal wife.
They’re dwarfed, though, by the overall production, which surrounds them with lighting flashes, horror movie flourishes and three creepily young witches chanting ominous temptations of power and predictions of undoing. Director Polly Findlay doesn’t keep things subtle, but there are rewarding concepts afoot, including a digital clock that hangs above the action, countdown from the death of Duncan to Macbeth’s inevitable demise – a clock that’s capable of resetting as much as it is unstoppable, a reminder that human fate is fuelled by greed in a moral cycle that runs like clockwork.
Look past the surface and there’s more to admire, from Edward Bennett (the former David Tennant understudy for the RSC’s Hamlet) as the likeable Macduff to the witty placing of the Porter in the background of events. He becomes the talisman of the whole production – one of unsung heroes and overshadowed ideas that, when the hurlyburly’s done, wins more battles than it loses.
Macbeth (2018) is available on BBC iPlayer until 1st September 2020