Macbeth on Broadway: A Witch Soup, Shaken not Stirred

Live Theater with Nathan

Nathan Ko '23, Staff Writer

When watching Macbeth in the NEO my freshman year, I thought, “God, this play is an absolute thrill!” I expected to have a similar experience with Macbeth on Broadway. It was Daniel Craig — 007 himself — and Ruth Negga playing the famous Shakespearian couple under the direction of Sam Gold. However, when I entered the Longacre Theater, I instantly thought, “God, what is that smell?”
Before the show started, the witches were brewing a stew on stage while some podcast was playing loudly through the theater’s speakers. Yet, I cannot even describe what that stew smelled like. It was like rotting garlic marinated in spicy balsamic vinegar. If the objective was to make a smell so rancid it was unworldly and witch-like, Sam Gold did his job. Interestingly, the costumes were very contemporary. By that, I mean the witches were wearing Nikes on stage.
One of the actors then entered the stage and gave a brief history of Macbeth, which ended with him inviting everyone inside of the theater to yell “Macbeth” alongside him. Saying “Macbeth” in a theater, for those unaware, is a grave sin. It’s a historic superstition all actors go along with, and those who don’t — like Chris Rock during the Oscars — are met with a slap in the face, or something even worse: a bad production.
I faced the latter. After everyone yelled, “Macbeth,” the show started. I was met immediately with a couple of loud boos from the actor. Everytime Norway was mentioned in the play, the actors would just boo. Though I’m not a Shakespeare scholar and though Shakepseare had a large lexicon, I don’t think that “boo” was in Shakespeare’s script. Instead, it was a random addition that rendered this great play silly.
Even sillier, after King Duncan died, the curtains closed and the actor playing Duncan came out drinking a Bud Light. I could not believe my eyes. Is the actor just drinking on stage during intermission? But no, this was apparently a part of Macbeth. He drank, made interesting innuendoes, and then Daniel Craig came out to drink a Bud Light with him. If “boo” shouldn’t be in Macbeth, I’m convinced that a Bud Light shouldn’t be either. But, in some regards, it did make sense in my eyes. I watched many James Bond movies that had scenes that felt just like car commercials, so I perceived this moment as just a quick Bud Light commercial.
For the rest of the play, there was just confusing double to triple casting. I’m a large fan of double or triple casting. As someone who has worked with Mr. McCamish, I know he emphasizes key character differences so that the audience knows that it’s a different character. In Sam Gold’s Macbeth, that was not the case. Instead, it felt like an actor just walking to a different spot on the stage and reciting a different line.

One great highlight was Lady Macbeth’s “Out, Damned Spot.” Ruth Negga’s performance was almost a religious moment. I’m always interested in the way an actor takes on “Out, Damned Spot,” as it either lands flat or looks like a personal, grieving moment. Shakespeare’s “Out, Damned Spot” is not just Frank Sinatra’s “Regrets, I’ve had a few.” It’s much more internally bitter and serious. When Ruth Negga said those three famous words, she took full command of the stage. Even with Daniel Craig’s mighty nature, it was no longer his play: it was now Ruth Negga’s. When uttering, “The Thane of Fife had a wife/Where is she now?” I not only felt her authentic remorse — I grieved alongside her. After delivering the line, “What’s done cannot be undone,” it was clear: this was no longer Ruth Negga performing on stage. This was Lady Macbeth.
I was excited to see what would follow, but what I saw disappointed me instead. I could not imagine a more humdrum way of reciting “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,” than the way Daniel Craig’s rendition. Even with the bright lights, I almost fell asleep; life truly crept at a petty pace.
And then, the play successfully challenged my preconception of just how bad a play could end. During the Macbeth-Macduff fight scene, I was in disbelief by how lackadaisical it was. It just didn’t make sense that this was Daniel Craig, with all his fight scenes during the James Bond series, on stage. Even worse, Macbeth started to bleed out of his crotch. Even though I’m a fan of radical interpretations of Shakespeare’s work, there was no reason I could think of to have Macbeth bleed out of his crotch other than for comedic purposes. Macbeth should be a tragedy, not a comedy.
At the end of the play, I watched all the actors come on stage as they… drank the stew together. After going through all the lowlights of Macbeth on Broadway, I was met with the largest lowlight of them all: the witches’ stew. It, again, smelled.
As I left the theater, I saw a sign that said, “This is not your parents’ Macbeth.” Not only was this not my parents’ Macbeth, but this was not any production of Macbeth that one could possibly imagine.