Review Roundup: Kenneth Branagh's MACBETH

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Review Roundup: Kenneth Branagh's MACBETH

Kenneth Branagh's highly-anticipated New York stage debut in an immersive and visceral staging of Macbeth at the Park Avenue Armory officially opened last night, June 5. Branagh is a five time Academy Award nominee and will be making his NY stage-debut in this production. The production also stars Alex Kingston who is well-known for her role in Doctor Who, as well as Richard Coyle, Scarlett Strallen, Tom Godwin, Edward Harrison, Dylan Clark Marshall, and Kate Tydman.

Known for programs that break new ground for artists and audiences alike, Park Avenue Armory is dedicated to giving artists the freedom to push the envelope with their work and to providing exceptional, thought-provoking, and immersive experiences for audiences. Park Avenue Armory's massive Wade Thompson Drill Hall and dynamically revitalized historic period rooms catalyze new kinds of work that extend far beyond what can be achieved in traditional theaters, concert halls, and museum galleries. Tickets can be purchased at http://armoryonpark.org/.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, New York Times: This is the summer blockbuster that we wait for every year and too seldom find at the multiplexes, one of those action-packed, spectacle-drenched shows that sweep you right into their fraught, churning worlds and refuse to release you until the lights come up - and maybe not even then. Of course, the dialogue here is a bit richer than that of films inspired by comic books. But it's also a whole lot tastier, and there's not a line spoken that doesn't seem to have grown organically from the wicked hurly-burly on the stage.

David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter: Kenneth Branagh first made his mark as a screen director with his pared-down yet robust 1989 version of Henry V. His film output since then has ranged with varying success from personal projects like Peter's Friends through further Shakespeare adaptations to giant popcorn odysseys likeThor. This sensational environmental stage production of Macbeth, which Branagh stars in and co-directed with Rob Ashford, is in many ways a logical culmination of that eclectic experience -- a medieval, mystical blockbuster that combines superlative, fuss-free classical theater acting with muscular storytelling, visceral physicality and propulsive rollercoaster pacing. Oh, and lots of mud.

Gordon Cox, Variety: There's something magnificently depraved about the vision of "Macbeth" evoked by Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford for the immense (55,000 sq. ft.) playing field of the Drill Hall of the Park Avenue Armory. Shakespeare's Scottish tragedy may be a cautionary tale about the brutalizing legacy of war and the perils of political ambition. But the best bits in this visceral production are the rousing battle scenes, the gory murders, and the nasty synergy between sex and violence. And let's admit it: Branagh's Macbeth is a bloody beast.

David Cote, Time Out NY: Kenneth Branagh has marched on the Park Avenue Armory and banishèd the curse!...Branagh and Rob Ashford jointly direct this gargantuan undertaking, which bristles with confident showmanship and clean, muscular diction. One hardly need note that Branagh has a facility for smoothing out even the thorniest Shakespearean passage with wit and clarity; his Macbeth is an earthy, sexual bruiser, but also a thinking man, one whose brain boils with guilty horror even as he plots his next outrage. Branagh traces the regicide's psychological deterioration with clean, bold strokes...All this bold spectacle and fine acting (with needed vocal amplification) is a thrilling and satisfying account of the play. People who want their Shakespeare abstract or contemporized may roll their eyes, but if you accept the pseudorealism of the period dressing, it's quite engrossing.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Of course, any "Macbeth" rises or falls on the actor in the title role. Silver-tongued, sexy and deft with a sword, Branagh oozes charisma and carnality as his Macbeth murders his way to the throne - and his undoing. It's about time Branagh graced New York audiences with a flesh-and-blood Shakespeare star turn. It was worth the wait.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Branagh, too, injects a boyishness into his Macbeth, at one point handing the bloody daggers he's just used to kill King Duncan over to Lady Macbeth as if he were a naughty child. And in his moving final soliloquy, he inserts a lengthy pause before spitting out the word idiot as if he has only just realized the folly of his strutting and fretting upon the dirt-clumped stage. In that brief speech, the actor manages to signify just about everything about his remarkable Macbeth. A-

Steven Suskin, Huffington Post: The cinematic sweep of this Macbeth is not altogether unexpected; Branagh, since appearing in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Henry V in 1984, has engaged in no less than six filmed Shakespeares. Somewhat surprisingly, this marks his New York acting debut. He makes a powerful and rugged Macbeth, especially from the up-close rows at the Armory. He is well matched by the voracious Ms. Kingston (an RSC veteran, familiar from television's ER and Doctor Who.) The rest of the imported company of twenty-eight is fine, albeit with few standouts other than the Banquo of Jimmy Yuill and the Duncan of John Shrapnel. There is also a presumably-American ensemble of thirty for crowds, battles, and sentry duty on the heath.

Terry Teachout, Wallstreet Journal: The beloved buzzword of postmodern theater is "immersive." In practice it can mean many different things, all of which reduce to one big thing: The audience is somehow made to feel as though it's part of the show. In Kenneth Branagh's "Macbeth," for instance, you arrive at the Park Avenue Armory, present your ticket at the door, and are duly assigned to a "clan" (complete with identifying rubber wristband) and steered to a waiting area.

Alexis Soloski, Guardian: The acting is skilful if immoderate, particularly Alex Kingston's passionate Lady Macbeth, Richard Coyle's sensitive MacDuff and Jimmy Yuilli's grizzled Banquo. Branagh sprints through the verse with intelligence and precision, conveying the quicksilver changes that define Shakespeare's heroes. His performance is a work of maturation, transforming Macbeth from a man who has never had to know his own mind into one who knows himself - and his capacity for evil - far too well.

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