New Times,
New Thinking.

  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

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy

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