The National Theatre of Scotland production of Macbeth starring the Tony Award-winning Alan Cumming opened this weekend (June 15) at the Tramway Theatre in Glasgow. The show is set to transfer to the Lincoln Festival in New York next month. The British critics have been unanimously positive, giving four and five star reviews. You can read what they had to say in detail below.
This innovative new production from The National Theatre of Scotland will be directed by John Tiffany (Once, Black Watch) and Andrew Goldberg (The Bomb-itty of Errors).
Alan Cumming said: "I have been obsessed with the play all my life. Speaking to John in New York, earlier this year, I had this idea I wanted to swap the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, because there are so many things about gender, I thought it would be a really exciting idea to flip that. So we did this reading like that, in New York, and Andrew suggested that I play all the parts, and I agreed to the idea.”
The production is set in a psychiatric unit and centers on a patient who is reliving the story of Macbeth. CCTV cameras watch the patient’s every move and the clinical walls of the unit come to life in a visually stunning multi-media theatrical experience.
John Tiffany and Alan Cumming (who made his stage debut as Malcolm in Macbeth in 1985) originally worked together on The National Theatre of Scotland’s production of Euripides’ The Bacchae which took the Edinburgh International Festival by storm in 2007 and subsequently toured in 2008 to Aberdeen, Inverness and Lincoln Center Festival.
Mark Fisher, The Guardian: "It turns the play into a feverish exploration of mental illness, whether it's Cumming on TV monitors as the three hallucinatory witches, Cumming as Macbeth, desperately trying to process the horror of his own dark deeds, or Cumming as Lady Macbeth, dealing with the OCD torments of that damned spot. Painted like this, the play is a vision of one man's helpless descent into madness and suicidal despair. No production since Anthony Neilson's The Wonderful World of Dissocia has so distressingly captured the inescapable hold of mental illness."
Mark Brown, The Telegraph: "It is one thing to tie play to concept, it is quite another for an actor to make it work. That Cumming does so, and so abundantly, is a tremendous testament to his remarkable abilities. [...] Deserving of its standing ovation on opening night, this Macbeth is, surely, guaranteed success when it transfers to New York next month."
Joyce McMillan, The Scotsman: "There are moments when the intensity of Cumming’s interaction with the text seems to flag a little, and the huge stage looks briefly like an arena too large for a single solo performer, however gifted. For most of the show’s length, though, Cumming’s grasp of the poetry is so complete, and his raw emotional immersion in it so total, that the audience remains absolutely gripped by the narrative."
Seth Ewin, British Theatre Guide: "There is already a recording and certainly if you closed your eyes it would still have been a great show, equally though you could plug your ears and Cumming's physical performance would tell the story too. He visibly jumps between the characters including the Macbeths in bed and makes use of the whole room, the beds, bath and mirror. [...] Those offstage also add significantly to the show from the clever use of the three video screens to the moving score. It is involving to the point of being exhausting."
Irene Brown, Edinburgh Guide: "The idea of a one-man performance of Macbeth originally came from joint director Andrew Goldberg and chimed with Cumming’s passion for the play and his notion to do a gender swapping version of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The result is a stellar, highly physical and arresting performance that is a combination of comic gestures and balletic grace. [...] The seemingly impossible has been made possible in this landmark Scottish production."