Blood and Vulnerability Shine Through: ‘Macbeth’ At Dock X Review


Ralph Fiennes, best known for his role as Voldemort in the Harry Potter series and recently starring in The Menu, seizes the crown in this gritty production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Director, Simon Godwin revisits themes of guilt and blood-thirsty power, but reimagined in the modern day, where bloodshed is still extremely prevalent.

Godwin’s emphasis on war is not an untimely choice given current political affairs, which is something Fiennes touches on in an interview with Liverpool City Council: “These horrors may sound romantic on stage but they’re terrifying and real. […] Sadly, wars are always with us.”

The play’s horror begins even before we reach the auditorium, where we are greeted by remnants of battle. The walkway is an apocalyptic post-war site of scorched trees and scattered scraps of concrete and rubble. Alarming siren wails and sounds of aircrafts permeate the entrance hall to intensify the terrorising atmosphere. The constant reminders of devastation and war are obvious.

Fiennes and Indira Varma give captivating performances as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Their warm embraces at the beginning display the chemistry between them; strong but not strong enough to withstand the festering ambition they possess as individuals.

Varma’s performance nails the shrewd gall of Lady Macbeth, as well as her descent into an infinite cycle of guilt. Fiennes’ take on Macbeth’s mental deterioration is less evil than expected, but more unhinged or mad. The wicked insanity that was quiet in the Witches in this interpretation, is more evident in Fiennes’ peculiar quirks. His incomprehensible grumbles or bursts into laughter in a silent room was rare but bizarre. Some chuckles in the audience made this choice seem like attempts at comedy, whereas it could be said that the strange behaviour was more dark than humorous. They illuminate the way ambition is gnawing its way into his sanity. His frailty is also palpable in his wary stance and trembling hands.

He plays a fragile Macbeth, easily swayed by his malevolent wife but that is what makes their performances so emotionally enriched, enough to have you feeling sorry for them.

The focus on war is visceral, but it’s this closeness to reality that overshadows some of the supernatural tendencies of the play. It seems Godwin wants to turn our attention away from what a Jacobean audience would be spooked by, ghouls and wicked women, to instead the very real political scares of today. Therefore, the weird sisters are weird, yes, but their eccentricity was not exceptionally shocking or macabre.

Though maybe not supernatural, this rendition does not shy away from gore. Some of the most effective scenes are enhanced beautifully by visuals. The stage blood used during combat, and especially during the brutal slaughter of Banquo is deliberately ghastly. Blood is integral to Macbeth and it is delightful to see it handled with such care and vigour. Cascading blood that stained the walls and disembodied hands slamming against the cloudy glass door executes a tangible horror onstage. The glass bowl filled with water is a nice touch. Watching it glow red as the couple desperately wash the blood from their guilty hands marks the transition from the naive, valiant Macbeth to the murderous, irresponsible tyrant he becomes.

Words by Layla Kiyani.

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