Critics Hail "Macbeth"

Patrick Stewart (C) performs on stage during the press night of 'Macbeth', at the Gielgud Theatre on September 26, 2007 in London, England.
Dave M. Benett/Getty Images
British critics hailed a powerful new production of "Macbeth" starring Patrick Stewart, praising its visual bravado and emotional intensity.

The show, which runs at London's Gielgud Theatre until Dec. 1, is due to open at New York's Brooklyn Academy of Music next spring.

The Daily Telegraph's Charles Spencer declared Rupert Goold's "brilliantly inventive, heart-stoppingly scary" staging "the greatest production of 'Macbeth' I have ever seen." Michael Billington in The Guardian awarded the show five stars out of five, praising its "directorial inventiveness" and "brilliant acting."

The Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh called it simply "the 'Macbeth' of a lifetime."

The production, which premiered Thursday at the Chichester Festival Theatre in southern England before its West End transfer, sets William Shakespeare's tragedy of regicide and revenge in a Soviet-style surveillance society.

Photos: Scenes from "Macbeth"
Anthony Ward's set is a dingy tiled room with a clanking service elevator that suggests at different times a hospital, kitchen, slaughterhouse and morgue. It is a superbly sinister setting, in which a trio of uniformed nurses morph into Shakespeare's three witches, tempting and taunting Macbeth with the prophecy that he will be king.

Stewart, an acclaimed Shakespearean actor known to millions as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and as Charles Xavier in three "X-Men" movies, is a soldierly, commanding Macbeth. First uncertain whether to seize his destiny by killing his monarch, then stunned by his actions, he becomes a volatile, paranoid tyrant who sees enemies at all turns.

"Stewart has done nothing finer," wrote Billington, who praised his transformation from "reflective soldier ... (into) an insecure monster whose most chilling tactic is a dangerous levity."

It is in these latter stages that the design flourishes, with expressionistic lighting and video imagery of mass rallies powerfully suggesting the madness of tyrants, and the agony of living under a tyranny.

The power of Stewart's performance is matched by Kate Fleetwood's steely, sinewy Lady Macbeth who goads her husband on to murder but, like him, is undone by the mental anguish that follows.

Critics also applauded Michael Feast's Macduff, who expertly uses silence to convey grief at the murder of his family. The production is full of such spine-tingling moments. The slaughter of Lady Macduff and her children, coming after a scene of domestic warmth, is unforgettably horrible.

Amid the critical kudos, the only quibble came from Benedict Nightingale in The Times of London. While praising the performances and the "gloriously inventive" staging, he found it "desperately busy and sometimes distractingly fussy."