Theatre review: Macbeth / Gielgud, London

Gielgud, London

Transferring a play is a tricky business. But in its move from the Minerva Chichester to the refurbished Gielgud, Rupert Goold's spellbinding Macbeth has lost none of its visceral excitement, political resonance or textual clarity.

The tone is set by Anthony Ward's setting: a white-tiled mixture of abattoir and hospital ward with its own doublegrilled lift. This is a world in which military nurses may suddenly turn into fiendish witches, and Macbeth grows from rugged hero to Stalinesque tyrant. But what captures the imagination is Goold's ability to contextualise. Lady Macbeth greets Duncan in her kitchen pinny; Banquo is murdered in a rocking railway carriage compartment; and Malcolm flees to a court where a whitetied tenor sings a Novello number. Far from being whimsical or tricksy, this roots the action in a plausible world of escalating terror to which England provides a tonal contrast.

Directorial inventiveness is also matched by brilliant acting. Patrick Stewart's Macbeth starts as a reflective soldier who pauses before using the word "murder", and develops into an insecure monster whose most chilling tactic is a dangerous levity. Stewart has done nothing finer, and he is superbly partnered by Kate Fleetwood's Lady M, whose capacity to imagine dashing out her child's brains is an index of a deeply disturbed mind. Michael Feast's Macduff, reacting to the the reported death of his own children with a weighted silence, also invests the character with an agonising sense of guilt. Martin Turner's Banquo and Tim Treloar's Ross add to the atmosphere of feverish suspicion, and Adam Cork's music and sound design are imbued with gothic horror. A traditionally difficult play is magnificently realised.

· Until Dec 1. Box Office: 0870 950 0915

· This article was amended on Wednesday October 10 2007. Banquo was played by Martin, not Michael, Turner. This has been corrected.


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

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