Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
27 April 2022updated 28 Apr 2022 10:05am

The wild, quiet menace of David Tennant’s Macbeth

On BBC Radio 4, Tennant brings bitterness, resignation and almost-buried fury to Shakespeare’s most famous lines.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

David Tennant has been performing Shakespeare plays for much of his career. Working with the Royal Shakespeare Company throughout the 1990s and 2000s, he was Touchstone in As You Like It, Antipholus of Syracuse in The Comedy of Errors, and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. By the time he took on Hamlet in 2008, he was a big-ticket name known for his nimble, eccentric performances in Harry Potter and Doctor Who, but his athletic, frenzied take on the character impressed even the most serious of theatre critics, with the Guardian calling him “the greatest Hamlet of his generation”. So it’s perhaps surprising that the Scottish actor has not – until now – taken on “the Scottish play”. Tennant’s debut as Macbeth aired on Shakespeare’s (supposed) birthday, 23 April, in a radio play for BBC Radio 4 – commissioned ahead of the 400th anniversary of the First Folio in 2023.

[See also: The Rest is History is breathtaking in its scope]

Tennant takes full advantage of his native accent, and the wildness that seems to lurk just under the surface in so many of his roles. He stops short of the all-out mania he embodied in his Hamlet, but brings a quietly building menace to Macbeth. He delivers his lines through gritted teeth, or between sharply sucked-in breaths; his soliloquies seem particularly intimate in audio-only form. Tennant has the essential skill of making Shakespeare’s most famous lines, at risk of being deadened by sheer familiarity, seem fresh and unaffected.

[See also: Life Goals is a joyous journey through our desert island kicks]

In the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech, he elongates his words, radically slowing the pace to the last syllable, revealing a man full of bitterness, resignation and almost-buried fury. And though Tennant is the only box-office name, the entire cast, including Daniela Nardini as Lady Macbeth, is first-rate. I came away thinking that Macbeth – with all its whispered plots, chanting witches (in a move familiar in horror films, their voices are electronically distorted) and ominous hallucinations seen by only one character – is particularly well-suited to radio.

Macbeth
BBC Sounds

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

This article appears in the 27 Apr 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Sturgeon's Nuclear Dilemma