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'Macbeth' review: James McAvoy is bold, brutish and brilliant

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The poster for Jamie Lloyd's Macbeth certainly raised a few eyebrows. People are wary of movie megastars appearing on the stage. Accusations of "stunt casting" fly around, and to be honest, we can't remember an advert for a play so looking like a film billboard.

A cynic might think that director Lloyd was happy to pick X-Man James McAvoy and the White Hot Claire Foy to get bums on seats. But before we even catch a glimpse of our witches, we know that's not the case.

James McAvoy (Macbeth) & Claire Foy (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

© Johan Persson

James McAvoy & Claire Foy in 'Macbeth'



Rather than pack out one of the larger Theatreland venues, Lloyd opts for Trafalgar Studios and a set-up that couldn't be further from having a starry-eyed audience gawping up at a shiny silver screen. The mob is perched a few metres from the action, with some actually sat just behind at stage level. It gives the impression of being abandoned on the set of Saw, or hanging with David Lynch at his most light-flickeringly frightful.

Our trio of witches appear. Dressed in army camouflage and mouth-only gas masks, they talk in stilted unison like Doctor Who villains. This isn't an "update" or "reworking". It's a razor-sharp visual translation that utterly preserves, enhances, makes real these 400-year-old words.

Claire Foy (Lady Macbeth) in Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

© Johan Persson

Claire Foy (Lady Macbeth) in 'Macbeth'



The supporting cast is more than capable. Jamie Ballard's Macduff, Hugh Ross's Duncan and especially Forbes Masson as Banquo - a loyal wingman at the off, before his return as the pointing, accusing spectre at the feast. But it's our leads and our witches who dominate here.

James McAvoy's Macbeth isn't some movie star picking up credibility or, worse still, a thespy type reverently taking his turn to tread the boards as Mr M. He's a filthy, blood and mud drenched squaddie destined to burn too bright, too fast, too violently for his own good. McAvoy's performance is raw, visceral. Painful even. If sympathy is lacking in his character, it is supplied by his pathetic downfall.

The witches and Lady Macbeth. Both give our Thane a helpful lift up on the ladder of ambition and he is all-too eager to take it. As he hesitates, they give him a further boost to the blood-splattered higher rungs from which he is destined to stumble and fall.

James McAvoy (Macbeth) & Kevin Guthrie (Lennox) in Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios

© Johan Persson

James McAvoy & Kevin Guthrie in 'Macbeth'



Ah yes, the Lady. When she first appears on stage, Claire Foy appears too gentle, too young, and yes, too feminine for the callous power-behind-the-man.

After she begs the spirits to unsex her, a cruelness creeps in but intentionally fails to fill her from crown to toe as she so implores.

Her viciousness is only skin deep. Her humanity, like the blood that will later haunt her walking dreams, impossible to completely expunge. Her fragility breaks through in her face and wrings emotion from you at her tragic demise, almost against your will.

Lloyd, McAvoy and Foy are a powerful trio. When this run is over, we'd happily traipse through thunder, lightning, rain and more unseasonal snow for another meeting with these three. With their Macbeth, they have dragged the still-living, kicking body of Shakespeare's work into the now.



Macbeth runs to April 27, 2013 at London's Trafalgar Studios. Performances will be on Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm, and Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm.

Tickets are priced from £10 to £54.50, with all tickets £15 on Mondays.

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