Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna presents a visually stylish and decidedly updated presentation of Shakespeare's famed tragedy.
Jarzyna has taken several liberties with the script, including updating the action to the 21st century. The breathtaking opening sequence is simultaneously presented in a high-tech central command on the upper level of the two-tier set (by designers Stephanie Nelson and Agnieszka Zawadowska), where Duncan (Miroslaw Zbrojewicz) conducts the war, and a mosque on the lower level, where Macbeth (Cezary Kosinski) and Banquo (Tomasz Tyndyk) assassinate the Arab leader of the opposition forces. Not only does this start the show off with a bang, the attack within a place of worship underscores Macbeth's questionable ethics from the very beginning.
Not every choice works. I'm sure I wasn't the only audience member puzzling over the inclusion of an actor running around in a white bunny suit. A homoerotic military orgy -- complete with simulated anal sex -- didn't seem well motivated, either. Worst of all, characters sometimes break out into fits of strained laughter, perhaps as a way of highlighting the comic absurdity of war. Yet, such manic behavior blunts the impact of the play, particularly in its closing scene.
Still, the imagery is often simply stunning. Cameras placed in strategic locations allow for close-ups of the actors to be projected onto the white walls of the set, actors rappel down the side of the building, explosions go off, the set catches fire, and there are beheadings and a hanging.
Amidst all of these special effects, it would be very easy for the actors to get lost -- particularly since they're speaking in Polish with English surtitles projected onto the walls. However, Kosinski holds his own for the majority of the play, with a subtly menacing undercurrent that will occasionally rise to the fore. Following the disturbing visitation by the ghost of Banquo -- daringly performed by Tyndyk -- Kosinski's Macbeth seems to lose his edge, and that also makes him less interesting to watch.
Aleksandra Konieczna presents a riveting Lady Macbeth, particularly when she claims to be pregnant in order to goad her husband into dispatching his best friend, Banquo (a plot twist not found in the Shakespeare original). Another imposing presence is Danuta Stenka as Hecate, who is the sole witch within this production. Initially clad in a black chador, she later sports a pink mini-dress and commands the stage with her every appearance. Sebastian Pawlak's Malcolm has spine enough to openly question his father's trust in Macbeth, but quickly loses it when confronted with the reality of Duncan's death. On the downside, Michal Zurawski's Macduff is annoyingly over-emotive, particularly in the scene (seen on multiple video monitors) where he learns the fate that has befallen his family in his absence.