Macbeth, review: Daniel Craig fails to shake or stir, but Ruth Negga provides a quantum of solace
Big risks yield dubious results in one of the most anticipated Broadway openings of the spring: Daniel Craig’s return to the New York stage as Shakespeare’s murderous monarch in Macbeth. The now-former James Bond was a chilling Iago in an intimate Othello Off Broadway in 2016, and he’s reteamed with that production’s fearlessly experimental director, Sam Gold. But the results this time are underwhelming.
Craig is so tightly constrained that Macbeth’s potent interior struggles don’t always resonate. He has a vigorous command of the verse, but it rarely seems as if much is at stake. Perhaps the intention is that, having witnessed the brutalities of war, he has found coping mechanisms to keep the atrocities at bay, or maybe his performance would have found a fuller life in a smaller house.
It does deepen in both menace and despondency as the play veers toward its tragic finale, and the slight emotion that creeps into Macbeth’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” soliloquy is powerful for its minimalism. But ultimately, it’s a frustrating interpretation because he comes across as too detached from all that’s happening around him.
In fairness to this production, it hasn’t had an easy ride. Shortly after previews began at the end of March, the production shut down when Craig and others in the cast tested positive for Covid. At one point, Gold even played a couple of small roles because the understudies were already covering other parts. Anyone would think this play was cursed...
After directing Glenda Jackson in an overwrought King Lear three years ago, Gold aims for minimalism in sets and costumes and “maximum fluidity and speed,” according to a programme note. (Some of the clothes in this modern-dress version look like they could have gone straight from the rehearsal room to the stage.) But this briskly paced two-and-a-half hours would benefit from slowing down on occasion. Instead, characters get lost behind an intriguing display of visual elements.
When Macbeth stabs King Duncan dead, for example, blood flows à la Psycho. After Banquo’s murder, Macbeth is haunted by not just one spectre, but an array of the dead woman’s ghosts (the casting crosses gender lines), and smoke machines figure largely. In the second act, Macbeth even carries out the murder of Macduff’s family himself. But Gold and the 14-member company have created a series of scenes – some more vibrant than others – not a production with a cohesive vision.
The show’s saving grace is Ruth Negga’s magnetic, tenacious Lady Macbeth – her journey from ambitious murderer to tormented madwoman gives the production its most affecting moments, especially when she’s confined to a table (serving as a bed) during her “sleepwalking” scene. Yet Negga and Craig don’t fully engage as a couple, and aside from Amber Gray’s impressive Banquo, the supporting cast, who play multiple roles, remain disconnected from one another.
Still, I have to commend Craig’s willingness to immerse himself in such a risky undertaking. He certainly could have played Macbeth in a safer, more traditional rendering that maximized his star power. In terms of danger, I’m not sure any Bond action sequence could compare to this off-beat take on Shakespeare’s dark tragedy.
Until July 10. Tickets: macbethbroadway.com