Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Donmar Warehouse declares war on Shakespeare

Plus: a handsome new production of Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll that doesn't put a foot wrong

Miscast: David Tennant (Macbeth) and Cush Jumbo (Lady Macbeth) at the Donmar Warehouse. Credit: Marc Brenner

Many of today’s theatre directors seem to believe that Shakespeare’s work was a huge mistake which they have a duty to correct. According to Max Webster, the director of Macbeth at the Donmar, Shakespeare’s error was to write scripts for the stage which would work better as radio plays.

His amended version is set in a fake recording studio where every seat is equipped with a set of headphones. Spectators must test the gear first to ensure that the stereo effect is working. If not, contact a member of staff, etc. David Tennant, playing the lead, transforms himself from a nice friendly Time Lord into an irascible Scottish warlord. He’s a terrific light comedian but his mischievous off-beat style doesn’t suit the role of an earnest, bloodthirsty villain. His wife is played by a distracted Cush Jumbo, who wanders around in a white satin kaftan which might be Gandalf’s nightie. Puzzlingly, she pops up in Lady Macduff’s main scene as well, disguised as the au pair. Newcomers to the play will assume that Lady Macbeth went undercover to help kill Macduff’s children. Not a helpful innovation.

Many of the actors are misgendered and all are mis-costumed. They wear Primark T-shirts, black kilts and dark knee-length woollen stockings as if they’re about to attend a cheerless picnic in a rainy glen organised by the venture scouts. The words of the actors, piped directly into one’s brain via the headphones, are supplemented by musicians playing Irish pub favourites on keening violins and skirling pipes. Angelic sopranos hit the top notes sweetly. It’s like being stuck in the Aer Lingus VIP lounge.

The Porter, played by Jatinder Singh Randhawa, is supposed to provide comic relief but he spends his time improvising jokes and picking on audience members for fun.

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