One Hulking, One Gaunt: Two Very Different ‘Macbeths’

There is more than one way to tell a story. In England, two equally impressive new productions of “Macbeth” prove this, both featuring major stars in the title role and adopting strikingly different approaches to Shakespeare’s classic tale of hubris and betrayal.

The first, starring Ralph Fiennes (“The Menu,” “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”), runs at the Depot, a cavernous converted warehouse on an industrial estate in Liverpool. Despite its grittily authentic set design and costumes, it is for the most part a conventional, realist treatment. The second, at the Donmar Warehouse, in London, and starring David Tennant (“Doctor Who,” “Des”), is a rather more high-concept affair, heavy on ambience and atmospherics.

The leading men are, likewise, a study in contrasts: Fiennes’s Macbeth is a hulking, lugubrious presence, whereas Tennant’s is a gaunt, energetic bundle of angst.

The Fiennes “Macbeth,” directed by Simon Godwin, runs through Dec. 20 at the Depot in Liverpool, before moving on to Edinburgh, London and Washington, D.C., in 2024. The makeshift playhouse features an immersive set: To get to their seats, theatergoers must file past a bleak, dusty landscape of rubble and burned-out cars, suggestive of a war zone. The stage set is an elegant geometric structure in forbidding gray, comprising a number of doors, balconies and stairways, representing the various Scottish castles in which much of the action unfolds. Thin, vertical streaks of blood gradually materialize on its walls as the story progresses.

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