A severed head in a plastic bag is hoist aloft in the opening scene of “Macbeth” at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal this week, to mark the bloody opening of a brutal adaptation by Rufus Norris for the National Theatre.
This version of the Scottish play is set in a grimy, post-apocalyptic world of bin bag curtains, cinder-block bunkers, ragged Army-surplus clobber and, refreshingly, Scottish and Northern accents.
The production borrows imagery from Japanese horror films and the grubby aesthetics of zombie TV shows to create an appropriately grim atmosphere, while a broken bridge suggests the futility of ambition in a degraded world where royal status consists of first dibs on a plastic drum containing murky cider.
A suitably oppressive soundtrack underscores the work of a uniformly strong cast. Patrick Robinson’s Banquo is a fully realised character with astronomical aspirations while Deka Walmsley’s drunken porter adds a welcome dose of earthy humour.
A powerful production was let down, I felt, by the weakness of two key scenes: Lady Macbeth’s guilty sleepwalking seemed underwhelming, while all the tension, so effectively created during the spectre’s appearance at the feast, was diffused by some throwaway comedy at the end.
This is a brooding and claustrophobic evocation of paranoia and subterfuge, summarised by Lady Macduff’s servant’s lines in the moments before her family is butchered: “But cruel are the times, when we are traitors, and do not know ourselves, when we hold rumour, from what we fear, yet know not what we fear.”
The play runs until Saturday January 26.