Saoirse Ronan makes haunting debut on the UK stage

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There is almost something sweetly feminine about the Lady M with its Irish accent and Ronan’s white jumpsuit to begin with. She is enthralled to read her husband’s promotion to Thane of Cawdor, confirming the prophecy of the Wyrd sisters – an unemotional and ever-vigilant trio of androgynous, alike-dressed women.

It is as if she has to tell her face to get tougher, meaner, colder as she implores higher powers to fill her with “the greatest cruelty.” The line “unsex me here” carries an irony. Whether wrapping his legs around McArdle’s sturdy Scottish warrior as he walks in, or snuggling him close to him as they crowd each other, their impulsive and lacking forethought takeover contains a desire to be linked together, carnally, and to give birth to a dynasty.

After Macbeth collapses in the wake of Duncan’s murder, going berserk during Banquo’s (Ross Anderson) bloody ghostly appearance, Farber portrays Ronan lying down, disappointed, distant and distant, pushing his reconciling hand away – that’s an ordinary couple seduced by the fantasy of a “better” life and shattered by it.

There are copious flourishes of invention. Duncan by William Gaunt, frail in a wheelchair, assisted by an oxygen cylinder, brings a rare lucidity to the first scenes. Ronan’s Lady M testifies here to the horribly staged murder of Macduff’s wife and children, giving added urgency to his feverish hand washing at a waterhole. But instead of speeding up, the action is overwhelmed by the painstaking approach. While McArdle impresses as a man who resolves to murder but finds himself uneven in the face of the consequences, his angst manifests itself in too many old-fashioned roars.

The evening ends brilliantly by replaying its opening scene, in which the company slowly comes together in an undead trance, as if the nightmare is playing on a loop. A qualified triumph, then, but I can’t wait to see what Ronan – and indeed Farber too – will do next.

Until November 27. Tickets: 020 7359 4404; almeida.fr


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