A high-profile production of The Scottish Play gets some of the lousiest reviews I can recall in an age and is then sent out (starry leads departed) on a lengthy national tour. Crazy or what?

Actually not. This powerful Macbeth from the Royal National Theatre, under its director Rufus Norris, proves to be one of the most gripping and lucid accounts of the tragedy staged during my theatre-going lifetime.

True, it is not without its faults, chief of which is its downplaying of the roles of the weird sisters (Elizabeth Chan, Evelyn Roberts and Olivia Sweeney).

Hubble bubble, let’s not trouble. Out goes the cauldron, and with it the spells and some of the play’s best-known lines.

Visually, too, the production leaves something to be desired. Famously a drama of black and red, the former is appositely applied in the sombre drapes of Rae Smith’s serviceable design, its curved, sidewards-swinging bridge fulfilling an important function. Often it serves to separate characters from the foreground to deliver soliloquies in a spotlight as other action freezes.

As for red, there’s plenty of that in, for instance, the decapitation by Macbeth that opens the play and his own that closes it, and the slaughter of Duncan (ultra-Scottish Tom Mannion), Banquo (excellent Patrick Robinson) and Lady Macduff (Lisa Zahra) and her brood, sassy son (Evelyn Roberts) included.


Alas, its selection as the colour of regality – standing out amid much slummocky road gang attire – is not so astute, the three-piece suits worn by Duncan and later Macbeth suggesting a bingo caller at a northern social club.

But what of the acting, to be considered after I pay an overdue compliment to the plangent, pulsating music (composers Orlando Gough and Marc Tritschler) that accompanies it?

Huge acclaim is due to Michael Nardone – another certain Scot in speech – for showing us in Macbeth a man of arms that all might wish to be – leaving aside, of course, the murderous streak. His is a descent into darkness in which is seen an obvious pragmatism, perhaps not hard to understand in the post-apocalyptic environment in which he is shown to operate.

His partner in crime, a definite minx of the moment, is powerfully drawn by Kirsty Besterman. Not for the first time, though, I felt the babe-bashing bravado she boasts of to inspire the wavering thane comes oddly from a woman reluctant to do the murderous business with the sleeping Duncan because he reminded her of dad.

Felicitous touches abound, including the discovery by the drunken, kilted porter (Deka Walmsley) of his employers’ regicide, after which he becomes a serviceable villain in the later villainous enterprises.

Admirable, too, is the enormous pause midway through Macbeth’s most famous speech, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow . . . “.After it, the grieving monarch cradles his dead spouse in an affecting prelude to his demise at the hands of Macduff (Ross Waiton).

Until Saturday. Box office: 0844 8713020 atgtickets.com 4/5