Macbeth (1995): Tricyle Theatre

PrMacbeth (

Live Performance

PRINCIPAL CAST: Tom Chadbon (Duncan); Ewen Cummins (Banquo); Lennie James (Macbeth); John Keegan (Macduff); Helen McCrory (Lady Macbeth).

This production ran from 20 October - 18 November 1995.

"Nicholas Kent's production of a play that could hardly be better suited to the Tricycle's intimate auditorium is pacy and racy but patchily acted....Christine Marfleet's set of curved, beaten metal panels that gleam in the firelight suggest both the distant path but also some future state, and a canny use of percussion adds to the atmosphere....But too many of the actors are ill at ease with the verse. Not so Helen McCrory's Lady Macbeth, whose performance is in a different league to the rest - passionate, focused and artfully spoken. A great classical career beckons."  ~ Lyn Gardner, The Guardian, 1 November 1995

"As designed by Christine Marfleet, Shakespeare's Scotland becomes a place of violent, cast-iron gloom and gravel illuminated only by flaming torches, bonfires and magnesium flashes, as performers canter on and off to the sounds of swords clashing and drums pounding. Kent's admirably multi-racial production lasts less than two hours without an interval, and the emphasis on pace rather than depth suggests he's aiming it at the tender minds who have to study Macbeth at school. It plays like an entertaining murder-thriller, from which the metaphysics have been excised along with several lines and characters. Lennie James makes Macbeth a compact action man, handy in a fight but hopeless in a plot. He finds some rare humour in the play, suggesting a man exasperated by situations beyond his control, but speaks the verse poorly. Helen McCrory's Lady Macbeth is more focused, a grim social climber who provokes suspicion in most right-thinking Scots. That even her husband is wary of Lady Macbeth from the start is an interesting idea, but one that Kent's otherwise poorly acted production fails to pursue."  ~ Nick Curtis, "Rattling through a classic at a murderous pace", Evening Standard, 31 October 1995

"The cast - some black, some white, some Asian - blend easily together. Lennie James's Macbeth is at once virile and weak, which is the way it ought to be...[reviewer then mentions only white actors by name]"  ~ John Gross, "Good and not so very dirty", Sunday Telegraph, 5 November 1995

"This is easily the best so far of the current crop of Macbeths: Nicolas Kent's production is clear, swift and explosive. Lennie James's Macbeth bears a frank, open, friendly face, but soon you can see what his wife means when she says that it is a book wherein men can read strange matters: it becomes shifty with calculation, brutalised by his deeds and hardened by despair."  ~ John Peter, Sunday Times, 29 October 1995

"But Nicolas Kent's Macbeth, the first Shakespeare production in the Tricycle's 15-year history, seems to know the level of risk at which it can safely operate. Not for Kent the grand totalitarian dystopia or the Hare Krishna send-up. With so many other Macbeths knocking around at the moment (six at the last count), he can dare not to have his cast in jeans or spacesuits - tunics and boots will do just fine, thanks. True, there's some judicious cuting, much doubling up and a multi-racial ensemble, but it's clear as the play zips along, without interval and with witches and swordfights, that the director wants his Macbeth fiery, not flashy....There are some neatly tense confrontations, such as when he justifies his violent dispatching of Duncan's bodyguards, say, or when he and Lady Macbeth greet a wary Banquo (Ewen Cummins) and warmly invite him to the feast."  ~ Dominic Cavendish, Independent, 27 October 1995

"Just to get important matters out of the way first, this is a very different production from Mark Rylance's in Greenwich: Lady M doesn't piss on stage and nobody becomes a Hare Krishna. In spite of these disappointments, however, the Tricycle's first plunge into Shakespeare is an auspicious event as Nicolas Kent's multiracial production speeds along with purpose in less than two hours and without an interval....The cast is small, so small that at the Macbeths' feast it looks as though the pair have been reduced to inviting their own servants. As Macbeth, Lennie James - if he doesn't quite conquer - lays down a marker for the future with his thoughtful creation of a man on the run from guilt; it's just that his light voice and ingratiating smile make it hard to believe he would ever screw his courage to the sticking-place. Helen McCrory as Lady Macbeth has more steel and Nitin Chandra Ganatra is an excellent Malcolm."  ~ Jane Edwardes, Time Out, 1 - 8 November 1995

"If only out thane was not so flaming terrible. Lennie James is energised but exudes nervous awkwardness as Shakespeare's tragic hero. The fundamental flaw is the verse speaking. Speed seems more prized than sense. Physically, James moves easily with his wife from warm kissing to terrified repulsion at her touch just after Duncan's murder, to cold manhandling. His swordsmanship is dramatic (fights by Roger Martin) with enemy blades sent flying. Regrettably, James also massacres his lines. The breathlessness that may be fitting in the early scenes trashes Macbeth's later life-weary soliloquies. The effortlessly natural Helen McCrory's performance is from another realm. Her Lady Macbeth, while now plunging depths of darkness or rising to icy power before the assassination is a soft-faced, determined young wife, who calls on evil spirits to harden herself up....This is an uneven production. Tom Chadbon is a nodescript Duncan though a surprisingly funny Porter. Joy Richardson is an unpoignant Lady Macduff, but is a riveting witch, hunched over her bonfire syncopating 'double double' to an African beat."  ~ Kate Bassett, "Trouble at the double", The Times, 27 October 1995