The Old Vic's excellent production of Macbeth is marred slightly by a very understandable trait: invention. Since next to Hamlet, Macbeth contains the largest number of familiar episodes and speeches, any company that approaches it is challenged constantly, and most feel the need to perform each moment better than ever before. Or, at least, differently. Although the Old Vic creation is always interesting, it is occasionally a bit obvious, and calls unwanted attention to details by superfluous inventiveness.
The worst innovation, is probably the new dimension of sex, which was evidently thought fitting for Lady Macbeth. She oils her way up and down Macbeth too physically. The porter's frightening over-eagerness to be a buffoon is also distressing, despite his amusing gestures. And white robes, worn by Macbeth and his consort, the morning after Duncan's murder, are a bit obvious. However, the production should not be criticized for its frequent innovation in punctuation of famous speeches--"There would have been time for such a word tomorrow. And tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in..." or "If it were done. When..."--which is usually imaginative in the most logical manner.
Acting is, with one reservation, on a distinguished level. Paul Rogers, as Macbeth, is marvelous. Probably the outstanding member of the troop, he grows with Macbeth to a superb fiery level. His violent face and boiling characterization is what the role of Macbeth deserves. Coral Browne's Lady Macbeth, though, was intense but somewhat bouncy. She looked wrong, except, perhaps, in her sleep-walking scene. To fulfill my demands for the role of Lady Macbeth would take a rare actress, which, I am afraid, Miss Browne is not. John Neville as MacDuff, Jeremy Brett as Malcolm, and Jack Gwillim as Banquo give distinctive performances, and the lesser roles are all handled with unusually thorough skill.
The witches, played by two men and a women, howl and gesticulate eerily over a gigantic cauldron, but their intriguing dramatic effect never quite inspires awe. As a whole, however, the staging is excellent. Banquo's ghost and Macbeth's horrified reaction to it is brilliant, as is the convergence of enemies on stage around the final duel with MacDuff. The actors played well despite an audience that laughed at murder and sneezed at terror. The set, a few bold pillars of rock and occasional draperies, is combined with splendid lighting to provide a strong yet quickly flexible background for this generally first-rate production.