Jamie Lloyd’s production of Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studios in London (formerly the Whitehall Theatre) is the first in a season of plays that will explore the compulsions and compromises of political power, “just a few steps away from the centre of British politics” (see our review on page 51).
James McAvoy, better known for his work as an actor in films such as The Last King of Scotland and Atonement, stars in the title role in a version of Macbeth set in the near future after some unexplained ecological catastrophe, in a ravaged, independent Scotland at war with England. “I think our country sinks beneath the yoke,” says Malcolm, son of the murdered king Duncan. “It weeps, it bleeds . . .”
This is obviously not an allegory of what might befall the Scottish people if a majority votes in favour of independence in 2014 and Scotland cuts itself adrift from the rest of the United Kingdom, becoming ever-dependent on its diminishing oil and gas reserves and its fishing stocks. Yet it serves as a timeless warning about the corruption of absolute political power and what might happen – indeed, what is happening already in many failing states – in a world transformed by climate change, overpopulation and resource scarcity.
It is a reminder, too, of the adaptability and continuing relevance of this great play, perhaps the darkest and strangest Shakespeare ever wrote.