Kill or be killed;Set play;Theatre

19th February 1999 at 00:00
MACBETH. Queen's Theatre, London. From February 24. Tel: 0171 494 5040.

Director John Crowley has chosen two young, attractive performers, Rufus Sewell and Sally Dexter, to play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. They have a loving, sexual relationship at the beginning of the play and, at the end, "we feel", says Crowley, "the loss of the couple we saw at the start. He begins low, but becomes a powerful, towering character; she starts strong, but tails off into madness. Our last image of Lady Macbeth is of her covered in cuts, pustule-ridden and refusing to wash except in imagination. Macbeth's life has shrunk to a tiny room. He goes out unmourned, but he goes out fighting."

The three Witches are, he says, "morally neutral. They only predict - their verbal riddles connect with what's in Macbeth's head. He has mentally rehearsed the death of Duncan already and that is why he reacts as he does when told of it by them. It is difficult to know what would have happened if the Witches had never appeared to him. Lady Macbeth is certainly the key catalyst: he is articulate and aware enough to talk himself out of it, but she appeals to his manhood.

"He commits the murder, though, and that divides them. Afterwards they are talking, seeing, hearing different things in growing isolation. For him it's either kill or be killed."

Crowley believes that something terrible has happen-ed in this marriage, but does not, like some directors, think it fruitful to assume, for instance, the loss of children. Whatever it was, there has been a failure in the relationship which provides Lady Macbeth with an emotional card to play. "She often pairs sex and death," he says. "She feels the need to try to rescue the marriage and create their immortality as a couple."

The style of the production is loosely Elizabethan but against a simple abstract set in which a brooding atmosphere is created by lighting. "Mirrors," says Crowley, "are an important visual metaphor. They were believed to have supernatural properties, so they can represent evil, but they are commonplace, everyday." The Witches hold up a mirror to Macbeth on the heath - they are really only making explicit what is present in him; the visions of the future, which the Witches show Macbeth are done with the aid of mirrors. And, Crowley adds, "Macbeth is trapped at the end, as if in a hall of mirrors."

Heather Neill

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