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Patrick Stewart's "Macbeth" turn a likely smash

Macbeth

By Frank Scheck

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - It has traveled a long way -- from England’s Chichester Festival Theatre, to the West End, to Brooklyn, to Broadway -- but the new production of “Macbeth,” starring Patrick Stewart, has arrived with all its virtues intact.

Indeed, the production benefits immeasurably from its newly intimate confines, which only serve to accentuate its considerable intensity. As with previous Shakespearean outings on Broadway by major stars including Denzel Washington, business should be booming for this limited engagement, and a Tony nod for its star seems a distinct possibility.

Director Rupert Goold has provided a particularly visceral staging for this Expressionistic, modern-dress production, which takes place in a vaguely Stalinist-era Russia and which features a stark, industrial basement kitchen setting in which the characters’ entrances and exits are made via an ominous large-sized elevator.

At times, there’s an admittedly kitchen-sink aspect to the proceedings, with the director’s often brilliant theatrical flourishes sometimes threatening to overwhelm the stark power of one of the Bard’s most direct and accessible works. There’s a self-indulgence on display at times -- one key scene, in which Macbeth violently reacts to the sudden presence of Banquo’s bloody ghost -- actually is repeated: The first time, the apparition clearly is on display to the audience, while in its second rendition the vision is merely in Macbeth’s guilt-ridden mind.

These occasional excesses do produce the not entirely beneficial result of stretching what’s normally the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays into a nearly three-hour marathon.

Particularly clever is the depiction of the always problematic three witches. Rather than the old hags that we normally encounter, they are presented here in various incarnations, most memorably in the opening scene in which they are shown as three nurses tending to the Bloody Sergeant in a military field hospital, their ministrations ultimately proving more homicidal than healing.

The production employs imaginative visual projections -- ranging from vintage films of marching armies to blood-soaked walls and heart-monitor flatlines when the proceedings turn violent. Startling lighting and sound effects add further to the already spooky atmosphere.

Stewart delivers a fascinatingly complex performance in the title role, cannily hinting at the character’s initial hesitancy and vulnerability before adopting a more fearsome demeanor. He also injects welcome doses of casual humor, including his fussy preparation of a sandwich even while plotting a murder with his cohorts. He’s well matched by Kate Fleetwood’s particularly sultry Lady Macbeth -- that she’s so much younger than her co-star only adds to Macbeth’s motivation -- and Michael Feast’s subtly anguished Macduff.

The production arrives on Broadway virtually intact, the only major cast changes being the always reliable Byron Jennings as Duncan and Rachel Ticotin as Lady Macduff.

Presented by Duncan C. Weldon & Paul Elliott, Jeffrey Archer, Bill Ballard, Terri & Timothy Childs, Rodger Hess, David Mirvish, Adriana Mnuchin and Emanuel Azenberg with BAM.

Cast:

Macbeth: Patrick Stewart

Lady Macbeth: Kate Fleetwood

Banquo: Martin Turner

Macduff: Michael Feast

Malcolm: Scott Handy

Duncan: Byron Jennings

Lennox: Mark Rawlings

Lady Macduff: Rachel Ticotin

Ross: Tim Treloar

Fleance: Emmett White

Witches: Polly Frame, Niamh McGrady, Sophie Hunter

Playwright: William Shakespeare; Director: Rupert Goold; Set designer: Anthony Ward; Lighting designer: Howard Harrison; Composer/sound designer: Adam Cork; Video/projection designer: Lorna Heavey.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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